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Cooking up the competition at Gelson's, Ralphs and Whole Foods

An unscientific experiment puts three area markets to the test.

April 14, 2014|By Lisa Dupuy
  • The poached salmon with dijon mustard sauce from Gelson's Market in La Cañada Flintridge on Thursday, April 10, 2014.
The poached salmon with dijon mustard sauce from Gelson's… (Raul Roa, Glendale…)

A parking lot lined with red tassels marks the opening of the 18th Gelson's Market location in La Cañada Flintridge. Food chat sites like Chowhound suggest that the shopping experience at Gelson's is somewhere between that at Whole Foods and Ralphs. In an effort to get to know the store better, I took it upon myself to test that theory with a very unscientific experiment. Below are the results.

By most accounts, Gelson's is renowned for their high-quality meats, seafood and produce. So I decided to treat my family to a pricey surf and turf dinner. At each of the three markets, I purchased one filet mignon, one filet of wild-caught Coho or Sockeye salmon, an heirloom artichoke, a pint of kale salad from their delis, and a carton of organic strawberries. (I attempted to include another local market in the mix, Sprouts, but they didn't carry some of my test items. Still they have great produce at reasonable prices and an expansive bulk food section.)


I cooked all the proteins the same way, seared with salt and pepper. Let me say from the start it was an outstanding meal. However, we did notice some differences. We kept the assessments as blind as possible, literally closing our eyes to test.

We found Gelson's to be the winner in the filet mignon category. It was tender as butter with an exquisite flavor. A close second, however, was Ralphs — juicy, flavorful but with a slight metallic taste. Whole Foods' filet was tender but lacked oomph. Here, I must admit to a flaw in my scientific process as well as respect for government meat-rating agencies. I assumed the filet I bought at Whole Foods for $28.99 a pound was USDA Prime (top classification). In fact it was a Choice cut. They had no Prime that day. So while the meats from Whole Foods and Gelson's were hormone- and antibiotic-free, only Ralphs and Gelson's had the more flavorful Prime. Ralphs made no mention of hormones or antibiotics, only that the beef was "raised and harvested in the U.S."

In the salmon category, Gelson's won yet again. All test specimens were previously frozen but the Gelson's filet had a springy freshness and a delicate flavor that was hard to top. Regarding the artichokes, I had to chuckle because when I got them home I realized they were all from the same farm. They tasted exactly the same.

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