Just before Christmas Aldi got into a bit of bother after it mistakenly labelled a smoked salmon product it was selling as "wild" and "Irish". According to the German retailer's Christmas brochure, the product had been "caught in the estuaries of Ireland" and was "exquisite rope-hung smoked salmon" with an "impossibly low" price of €28.56 per kg.
Thing is, that price was impossibly low. There was no way anyone – not even a retailing giant with the buying power of Aldi – could sell a such a rare and highly-valued product at that price. Wild Irish salmon costs about €80 per kg, and is only available for about one month in the year – and that month is not December.
It turns out the product was farmed in Scotland. Aldi blamed a "descriptive error" for the catalogue listing.
Fast-forward to the new year, and close rival Lidl was under fire for a remarkably similar transgression. It fell foul of Bord Bia after it wrongly used the food authority's stamp of approval on promotional leaflets advertising one of its fish products.
The German retailer had advertised salmon darnes with pepper and garlic using the Bord Bia quality-assurance stamp, complete with a shamrock and Tricolour. However, fish are not covered by any quality-assurance scheme. Bord Bia got on to Lidl, and the mistake was rectified sharpish.
The retailer also admitted that not only did the fish not have a quality-assurance stamp, it had not even been caught in Ireland. It had been given its added value – the pepper and the garlic – in Keohane Seafoods in Cork, and that fact gave it the legal right to say it was produced in Ireland.
A spokeswoman stood over the use of the Tricolour on the Scottish salmon, and told us it was "standard practice" in the supermarket sector. She was not wrong.
Here's another example. In the run-up to Christmas we came across a smoked salmon product selling in Aldi that had a prominently placed Irish Tricolour and two references to Irish whiskey in the mix. As with the Lidl salmon, however, it was farmed in Scotland. But it was smoked in Co Mayo, a fact that allowed Aldi to use the Tricolour.
Aldi and Lidl are not alone in creating the impression – either by design or by accident – that products they sell are locally sourced. The same rules mean retailers can slap the Tricolour and the phrase "Produce of Ireland" on a hunk of chicken reared in Thailand and pumped with water in the Netherlands, before being shipped here to be dusted with breadcrumbs and sold.
Retailers and food producers shout loudly about their Irishness because they know we like the idea of buying locally. According to a study published by Love Irish Food last year, trust in a brand, country of origin and local provenance are the top priorities when it comes to choosing the food we buy.
But it can be hard to discern as so many products on our supermarket shelves sound Irish but come from elsewhere, and then there are others that sound like they don’t come from here but (sort of) do.
So with that it mind we thought we’d play a little game of Irish or not.
Dublin Bay prawns: If you thought Dublin Bay prawns came from Dublin and were prawns you would be wrong on both counts. A Dublin Bay prawn is actually a lobster and it doesn't come from Dublin Bay. Its proper name is the less-than-catchy Nephrops Norvegicus, although it is also known as a langoustine and a Norwegian lobster. According to the Irish Marine Institute, it is found in the Irish Sea, the Celtic Sea and off the west coast of Ireland, and it can also make its way up to Iceland and down as far as Egypt. Apparently it got its Irish-sounding name because those who fished for the lobster used to use Dublin Bay to take shelter when weather was rough.
Jacob's Fig Rolls: "The Jacob's biscuit brand was launched in Ireland in 1851 and quickly established itself as the number one biscuit brand in Ireland, and it is now firmly a part of the fabric of Irish society," gushes the Jacob's website. "When Irish people remember their childhood days, there is always one memory that remains unchanged – the trusted packet of Jacob's biscuits in the kitchen cupboard." That is well and good, but where do you think Valeo – the company that owns Jacob's – puts the figs in the fig rolls? Malta. It shut its biscuit-making facility in Tallaght in 2009, and shipped the production overseas.
Siúcra: Well, this has to be Irish, right. I mean it has an Irish name and everything. No. All the Irish sugar-beet factories are long gone, and Greencore, the company that owns the Siúcra brand, imports its sugar from elsewhere in Europe, frequently Germany, and then repackages it.
Barry's Tea: Made with tea grown in the foothills of the Macgillycuddy's Reeks, this is a quintessentially Irish product. Okay, so the tea is not from Ireland – it comes from Africa – but Barry's is still Irish. It is one of the Love Irish Food brands and to get that moniker at least 80 per cent of the manufacture of the product must take place in the Republic. Lyons, on the other hand, is not considered an Irish brand.
Fruitfield Old Time Irish Marmalade: Made to an Irish recipe by a company which was once a big producer in Ireland, the production of this marmalade was outsourced to the UK and Portugal more than a decade ago until Dublin-based Valeo foods brought production back to the Republic over a year ago." *
Donegal Catch: You would imagine that Donegal Catch comes from Donegal, right? Or, at the very least, Ireland. Some of its fish does, but equally the fish in the bag might come from Scotland or even Chile.
Viagra: This is perhaps one of the most internationally recognised products made in Ireland, although Guinness – which can have quite the opposite affect of Viagra if consumed to excess – might give it a run for its money. All credit to Pfizer in Cork.
Lipitor: One of the biggest-selling drugs in the world which lowers cholesterol and is credited with reducing deaths from heart attacks all over the world. It is also made by Pfizer in Co Cork. Let's hope Donald Trump doesn't make it go home.
Punch Colour Catcher: This international bestseller which enables coloured clothes and whites to be washed together without the whites turning pink, blue or any other colour was invented by Pat McNamee at Punch Industries in Little Island, Co Cork. It has different names around the world, including Shout in the US.
Sudocrem: "In 1931 Thomas Smith, a professor of pharmacy and a retail pharmacist in Dublin, developed a unique cream from the back of his humble shop. The healing cream was excellent at treating nappy rash, eczema, pressure sores, incontinence rash and a variety of other minor skin lesions." So says the Sudocrem website. It is now sold in 40 countries, and is probably the most famous nappy cream in the world. It is made in Baldoyle.
William Shaw's Traditional Ham: The advertising campaign behind William Shaw's traditional bacon might lead you to believe it is as Irish as Roy Keane. And the bacon might be Irish. But Shaw's is owned by Breeo Foods, a subsidiary of co-op giant Dairygold, and the bacon could also come from the Netherlands, Denmark or Scotland.
Panadol: Owned by GlaxoSmithKline, Panadol is one of the world's leading paracetamol-based over-the-counter painkillers, and is available in more than 85 countries. It is made in Dungarvan, Co Waterford.
* This story was corrected on January 23rd, 2017. An earlier version of this story omitted the fact that production of Fruitfield Old Time Irish Marmalade has been returned to the Republic.