Scottish or Scotch? A guide to interpreting food labels

  • The Larder
  • 1 May 2009

Read the label carefully if you want to scotch the myths about where your food and drink comes from.

Is that food Scottish? Well, if it was grown, or manufactured, or perhaps landed (in the case of fish) in Scotland, it would seem obvious. Yet in the complex world of food labelling, things aren’t always so clear. Note the difference between smoked Scottish salmon and Scottish smoked salmon. It’s possible that the wording of the latter has been deliberately used to cover the fact that the salmon has been smoked in Scotland, but not necessarily sourced from Scotland.

In fact only a few products have a legal framework governing their definition as Scottish. If you see the label ‘Scotch Beef’ or ‘Scotch Lamb’ then you know that the product has been subject to the strict guidelines of Quality Meat Scotland and has been born, reared and slaughtered in Scotland. Meat described as ‘Scottish’ or ‘from Scotland’ isn’t necessarily inaccurate, but it doesn’t fall under a legally enforced definition.

Likewise, the term ‘Scottish Salmon’ can only be used for salmon that has been reared and caught in Scotland and is kept in check by the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation.

‘Scotch’ Whisky is protected by the Scotch Whisky Association and a strict legal definition regarding the way it is made has been in place for many years – central to it is that the whisky must have been made in a distillery in Scotland and matured in oak casks in Scotland for at least three years.

And beyond these definitions? Well, it’s essentially a matter of trust between consumer and producer. Local shops, farm stalls and farmers’ markets offer opportunities to get closer to those who make food in this country and increasingly you can visit the farms, distilleries and factories to see exactly where they’re made and – just as importantly – how.