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Ode to Marmite - spreading the love

I Was A Marmite Baby – Spreading The Love.

Love it or hate it. Either way, in the UK, we take Marmite for granted. Like generations before me, I was brought up on the stuff. Seemingly indestructible, an open jar might last for years. However, it survives only a few days in our house. It’s a food that tastes like no other and has become a metaphor for describing polarised opinions. This is my ode to Marmite, and I’m spreading the love around.

That iconic dark brown glass jar contains a lovely, thick, dark brown goo described as “yeast extract“. It gets its name from the French stockpot featured on the label (Le Marmite). It may look like crude oil, but it’s relatively healthy. It’s low fat and low sugar, high in added B vitamins. It’s vegetarian, vegan, Halal and Kosher as well.

Marmite is also high in glutamic acid, which accounts for its savoury, umami flavour. The only dietary drawback is that it’s high in salt, though now a reduced salt version is available.

Whether you Love it or Hate it, this was always thought to be a simple personal preference, but DNA research suggests the choice might be genetic.


It’s eco-friendly, too. It comes from the spent brewer’s yeast left over after fermenting beer, a waste product. Some say Marmite was invented in the late 19th Century by a German Chemist, Justus von Liebig. However, this is not entirely accurate. He invented beef extract and, hence, OXO. He made the invention of Marmite a possibility because he discovered a way to process yeast into yeast extract.

However, in 1902, the Marmite Food Company (owned by Unilever since 2000) was formed in Burton-on-Trent, the spiritual home of British brewing. Using the spent yeast from the Bass brewery, their “top-secret” factory processing releases soluble amino acids and proteins. Add vegetable and spice extracts and a range of vitamins to this basic yeast extract paste, and hey, presto!




Over the years, there have been some excellent Marmite marketing campaigns, including releases of various limited editions based on yeasts from Guinness, Marston’s and even Champagne. Perhaps the most well-known was Ma’amite, celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Jubilee. It’s a unique and genuine taste of British Heritage, now commemorated by a stone sculpture in Burton called Monumite.

A squeezable version replaced the miniature 57g jar a few years back, which at the time seemed like heresy. The last of those tiny pots went on eBay for charity. They came in a commemorative RIP box, complete with an authentication certificate!

Arguably less memorable were the twin Harry and Meghan pots introduced for their wedding; it passed me by.

Marmite-flavoured crisps and snacks are also popular. In January 2024, many mourned when Walkers decided to stop making Marmite flavour crisps. But then, quicker than you can say, “Gary Lineker”, Marmite teamed up with Tyto, a rival manufacturer. Happy Days!


Britain eats 85% of all production, some 6,000 tonnes annually. Unsurprisingly, 25% of Brits, including me, take it abroad. I detest running out and keep a small emergency pot in my toiletries bag! So my advice for Marmite lovers abroad is to pack a jar or look out for British imports in specialist shops rather than supermarkets. Thankfully, in Italy, there’s a shop in Milan where I can stock up in an emergency.

There are, of course, imitations. These all have different ingredients and, in my opinion, are inferior. Imagine my disappointment in New Zealand when I found a Kiwi version containing sugar and caramel! In New Zealand, “Our Mate” is the brand name of the real thing because a rival company owns the Marmite name. I’m also particularly wary of Australia’s Vegemite and Promite.

Then there’s Bovril, the arch-enemy, made with beef extract and now owned by Unilever. From 2004 to 2006, during the CJD crisis, Bovril ditched the meat extract and reformulated it to be vegetarian. But whatever the recipe, its only use to me has ever been as a winter hand warmer in a freezing football stadium during half-time.


Marmite is a classic on toast or with cheese sandwiches. It’s a standard addition to soups and casseroles. Marmite Spaghetti is a student favourite, endorsed by Nigella Lawson, and you can cook the pasta passively. There are entire cookbooks devoted to Marmite. Indeed, the late Gary Rhodes included it in his lofty cuisine. His Michelin-starred restaurant, Rhodes 24, served a Marmite and chocolate sauce to pour over coffee ice cream.

Wine matches are, however, tricky. With the need to match umami and salt, a low-tannin red wine works best for me.

And Finally

I was a Marmite Baby, brought up on Marmite Toast Soldiers. It’s no surprise that I’m a Love Marmite fan club member. It doesn’t take much persuasion to wear my authentic Vivienne Westwood Marmite T-Shirt, catwalk watchers! And, of course, there is also a Hate Marmite fan club, instrumental as solace for long-suffering partners. Should you wish to celebrate,  World Marmite Day is on September 28th.

And the final word comes from the Edinburgh Fringe. In 2016, Roger Swift had the official 12th-best joke. “I spotted a Marmite van on the motorway. It was heading yeastbound.” Boom-Boom.


The original publication was August 2016, with updates in February 2024.

For more foods that polarise opinion, see my piece on Brussels Sprouts!


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