What’s With Marmite?


The word has been part of my vocabulary for years, probably since reading some British novel seeking to evoke a particular time or place. What that would be, I have no idea.

Anyway, I’d never tasted it, in fact didn’t know of any place where I could buy it. A friend had tried to secure some for me a couple of years ago – no luck.

And then on Sunday, I was browsing for soup at the health food store, and there it was on a lower shelf. It cost $6.79 for about 4.5 ounces – pretty expensive, especially if I didn’t like it. I added it to the basket, figuring I’d have it as a post-run snack. The jar suggested a thin spread on toast, but I decided crackers would work just as well.

First revelation: the Brits don’t believe in secure packaging. A little tab opened on the first twist of the cap. And there it was, no safety film. It glistened, brown? maybe purple? I grabbed a knife and dug in. It had the consistency of caramel on the verge of becoming praline. It took some doing to get the thin part, but I finally managed without breaking the cracker.

Then came the taste test: first salt. Even the salt lover in me found it excessive. And then more salt. After that came some odd funky flavor, as I would imagine a pile of mushrooms left too long in the sun. And it was sticky. Spots of it lingered around my mouth, even after I’d wiped with a napkin and rinsed with a wet paper towel. Before I consigned it to the trash, I decided to try it chilled. Twenty-four hours in the fridge should tone down the  intensity.

Chill didn’t help. In fact, I couldn’t tell any difference between Marmite warm and Marmite cold.

I read the label. It’s a yeast extract (probably accounts for the funkiness) and contains B vitamins. Vegetarians can struggle to find good sources, so that’s a plus . The second ingredient is salt, 200 mg. in a half teaspoon. Half a teaspoon? I think I used about 1/16th on the cracker. More would be an exercise in torture! The remaining ingredients are mostly  extracts – carrot, onion, and “spices.” I tried to visualize cooking down those bright veggies into this brown mess. It’s not appealing.

A Yahoo poster wrote: “Marmite is a brownish vegetable extract with a toxic odor, saline taste and an axle grease consistency that has somehow captivated the British.”

I’ll let the BBC have the last word regarding origins and urban myths.

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