In Germany, It's All About Harmony

Harmony has become an important factor to consider for exporters of extra virgin olive oils to Central Europe.

By Costas Vasilopoulos
Jun. 21, 2018 11:06 UTC

Harmony is a term used in the olive oil indus­try to describe an oil that com­bines many fine ele­ments together. Our own Ollie says that it is a char­ac­ter­is­tic of a well-bal­anced oil, one that offers a pleas­ant com­bi­na­tion of fruiti­ness, bit­ter­ness, and pun­gency.”

In com­pe­ti­tions, most notably the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, har­mony and com­plex­ity are val­ues that add sig­nif­i­cantly to the judges’ scor­ing of an oil.

But har­mony is also an estab­lished method in Germany to cat­e­go­rize sam­ples within the EVOO grade.

The organolep­tic assess­ment of olive oil, or sen­sory eval­u­a­tion, adheres to stan­dards set by the International Olive Oil Council, and also to the 640/2008 reg­u­la­tion of the European Commission, for assess­ments per­formed in the EU. Olive oil is clas­si­fied as extra vir­gin, vir­gin, or lam­pante oil, depend­ing on whether it ful­fills both the chem­i­cal and sen­sory require­ments of each cat­e­gory.

The har­mony value (also called bal­ance) is used in Germany and other neigh­bour­ing coun­tries as a dis­crim­i­na­tion fac­tor for extra vir­gin olive oils to rate them as bad, aver­age, good, very good, and of pre­mium qual­ity.

The idea to extend the basic sen­sory eval­u­a­tion process of olive oil emerged in Germany back in 2003, where experts saw a gap in the extra vir­gin cat­e­gory between the sim­ply non-defec­tive oils and those that were excep­tional. The harmony/balance value and the rel­e­vant method­ol­ogy were con­ceived by Dieter Oberg of the German Olive Oil Panel (DOP) and Annette Bongartz of the Swiss Olive Oil Panel (SOP).

Oberg told Olive Oil Times that the defects they were find­ing in eval­u­at­ing olive oils led to the har­mony con­cept. I was invited to be in dif­fer­ent juries and learned so much more, so olive oil became a pas­sion for me,” he said. But in our panel at that time, the major­ity of sam­ples for the organolep­tic assess­ment were sent by dis­coun­ters and super­mar­ket chains and around 50 per­cent were defec­tive. The goal in the DOP was to change the sit­u­a­tion — oth­er­wise, [some] of the tasters would not stay in the panel.”

The method­ol­ogy included defin­ing cri­te­ria like the com­plex­ity of the fla­vor; the diver­sity, purity and inten­sity of the aro­mas; and the harmony/balance of fruity, bit­ter, and pun­gent. The process finally results in a mark on a 10-point scale that depicts the har­mony value of the spec­i­men.

To apply the method­ol­ogy, tasters of olive oil need to focus on sub­tle dif­fer­ences of aro­mas and tastes in olive oil sam­ples. For this, train­ing ses­sions were orga­nized to expose the tasters to more sen­sory para­me­ters.

The national tasters are well-trained for many years,” Oberg explained. Advanced train­ing ses­sions with the tasters’ group take place four times per year. The panel super­vi­sor decides about the impor­tance of refresh­ing cer­tain parts of the sen­sory analy­sis includ­ing the har­mony value.”

Τhe harmony/balance value was accred­ited by the German author­i­ties as part of the offi­cial national organolep­tic assess­ment process in 2015, and since then it has evolved into an impor­tant fac­tor for importers of olive oil in Germany and other German-speak­ing coun­tries.

For the rest of the con­ti­nent, har­mony is still an unof­fi­cial para­me­ter, but its exten­sive use in cen­tral Europe is increas­ingly rel­e­vant for com­pa­nies export­ing to the region.

In Germany, DOP eval­u­ated about 2,700 sam­ples of EVOO between 2013 and 2017 and it found a trend of increas­ing qual­ity.

Today, big German dis­trib­u­tors and dis­coun­ters of olive oil ask for the help of their national olive oil experts to cre­ate tai­lor-made aroma pro­files to be used as bench­marks for pro­duc­ers and bot­tlers in coun­tries that export olive oil to Germany.

Oberg said that, due to its suc­cess and grow­ing accep­tance, other European coun­tries would be bet­ter off if they adopted the harmony/balance value within with their cer­ti­fied panel test­ing processes.


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