Following on from our post about English mustard, we have decided that a mini-series is warranted that will be entitled "The English Colonial Gentleman's Larder".
Marmite – a product that surpasses social class, age groups and regions – whether you love it or hate it. Generations of English children have enjoyed Egg Soldiers with Marmite, adults make sandwiches of all descriptions, and more recently Marmite-flavoured crisps and even coffee ice cream with a chocolate sauce flavoured with a dash of Marmite.
Commonly, described as a yeast extract, it is not an extract. Salt is added to suspension of yeast cells making that solution hypertonic. The yeast cells shrivel up triggering autolysis in which the yeast cells self-destruct. The dying yeast cells are heated to finish them off and the resultant goo is filtered to make a nice smooth, dark dark brown paste. A few things are added but not much. It is highly rich in Vitamin Bs and gained much popularity in the First World War amongst British soldiers suffering from dietary deficiencies. It must not be compared with Bovril, a true extract of beef.
The Marmite Food Extract Company was founded in 1902 in Burton-upon-Trent, a great brewing town in the northern Midlands of England, using residue yeast from the town's various breweries (Bass, Marston etc) to make its product. The independent company, Marmite Ltd, ceased to exist in 1990 and Marmite is now owned by the multinational Unilever. However, the main factory is still in Burton-upon-Trent and in a wonderful piece of recycling, the breweries still pay Unilever (for deity's sake) to cart off their yeast residual!
The origin of its name is in the French and Basque cooking vessel known as a “marmite” - a Marmite bottle supposedly resembles the shape of a marmite and a marmite features on Marmite's label. It must also be noted that the Basques have a tuna dish called Marmite (presumably as it is cooked in a marmite),
It is extremely salty in taste. It is darker in colour than dark chocolate. It is a spreadable, unattractive goo. If you can imagine a glutinous soy sauce ...
For our US readers you will have to find a specialist foodstore to find this. For those in the ex-colonies, the original, derivatives and adaptations may exist and those further afield, I am sorry I cannot help you.
The Marmite website reflects their latest advertising campaign - “You love it or you hate it”. An amusing and clever ploy indeed – visit the website to see it in action, I neither love it nor hate it, but rather go through phases several years apart.
Currently, I am in a “I love Marmite” phase – with a two-year old jar of Marmite.
It is fortunate indeed that a jar of Marmite, despite the obligatory sell-by/use-by dates, will last for years. I would not be surprised if a perfect jar of Marmite was excavated from a WWI battlefield.
The Marmite FAQ is also a fascinating source of information.