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.

Jun. 21, 2018
By Costas Vasilopoulos

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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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