Ginkgo biloba extract (GbE) is a dietary supplement derived from an ethanolic extract of Ginkgo biloba leaves. Unfinished bulk GbE is used to make finished products that are sold as dietary supplements. The variable, complex composition of GbE makes it difficult to obtain consistent toxicological assessments of potential risk. The National Toxicology Program (NTP) observed hepatotoxicity in its rodent studies of a commercially available, unfinished GbE product, but the application of these results to the broader GbE supplement market is unclear. Here, we use a combination of non-targeted and targeted chromatographic and spectrophotometric methods to obtain profiles of 24 commercially available finished GbE products and unfinished standardized and unstandardized extracts with and without hydrolysis, then used principal component analysis to group unfinished products according to their similarity to each other and to National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standard reference materials (SRM), and the finished products. Unfinished products were grouped into those that were characteristic and uncharacteristic of standardized GbE. Our work demonstrates that different analytical approaches produced similar classifications of characteristic and uncharacteristic products in unhydrolyzed samples, but the distinctions largely disappeared once the samples were hydrolyzed. Using our approach, the NTP GbE was most similar to two unfinished GbE products classified as characteristic, finished products, and the NIST GbE SRM. We propose that a simple analysis for the presence, absence, or amounts of compounds unique to GbE in unhydrolyzed samples could be sufficient to determine a sample’s authenticity. Graphical abstract Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (10.1007/s00216-020-02839-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.