Marmite is a sticky brown spread used on sandwiches, toast or crackers, across the English speaking world. It is part of British heritage and it helped the nation survive two world wars. It has a distinct meaty flavour but funnily, it contains no meat.

Marmite was first developed by a Scot, named John Lawson Johnston in 1902. Inspired by German scientist Justus Von Liebig, he began to experiment with yeast paste, fortified with minerals and veg, to create the flavourful sandwich spread we know today. He set up his Marmite factory in the city of great beer, Burton upon Trent in Staffordshire, and used the local brewer’s yeast in its production.

At first, Marmite was primarily marketed as a health food. But soon its unique flavour and versatility made it popular with consumers, and it became a household necessity in many British homes.

During World War I and World War II, Marmite became even more popular, as it was included in ration packs for soldiers and civilians alike. It was so popular after World war I that there was a shortage and Australia created its own version called Vegemite in 1923. Both Marmite and Vegemite continued their popularity throughout the 20th century, and are both enjoyed not only in the UK and Australia, but also in many other parts of the world. As vegetarianism has grown, Marmite has found a new market as it has a meaty taste but is meat-free.

Despite its widespread popularity, Marmite remains a divisive spread. Some people love its salty, savoury flavour, and others find it disgusting. In 1996, two British advertising executives, Flintham and McLeod, were tasked with, «How to sell a product that divides the nation?» Flintham loved the spread and McLeod hated it. They hit upon the slogan, «You’ll either love it or hate it». While most advertising tries to convince everyone that they will love the product, they decided to be honest. This honesty was loved by the British public and became a talking point. People who had never tried Marmite before, bought it to see if they loved or hated it and it resulted in not only increased sales but new found fans.

This ‘ love it / hate it ‘ idea has turned Marmite into an adjective to describe something that people either strongly like or dislike. For example, Eurovision is very marmite with the public, it elicits a strong positive or negative response depending on the person you ask.

One fun fact is the world record for eating the most Marmite in one minute went to Andre Ortolf, of Augsburg Germany, who consumed a whopping 502g or 100 teaspoons of the stuff! It also has some famous fans. The Rolling stones always bring jars of Marmite of tour. Elton John is such a big fan of Marmite that the company made a special Elton John version especially for him.

Nowadays, Marmite is not just spread on toast. In Malaysia, they use it to flavour their porridge in the morning! There’s a variety of Walker’s crisps with a Marmite flavour. In Sri Lanka, they even drink it as a hangover cure. You can buy Marmite biscuits, chocolate, rice cakes, nuts, and the list goes on.

However, Marmite isn’t welcome everywhere. It’s banned in prisons as it can be used to make alcohol. The British media reported a few years ago that Denmark had prohibited its sale due to the amount of vitamins and minerals added to the product, although this was not strictly true and now it is on sale there again. Just 1 teaspoon of Marmite gives you 7% of your daily limit of salt!

Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Marmite has a rich history and a unique place in British culinary culture.

John Flynn

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