Alimentary, My Dear
Marmite? Again? Will It be Love This Time Around?
By Tamia Nelson
April 20, 2010
Marmite. It's a savory sandwich spread from the nation that invented the sandwich. This sounds mighty promising, but there's a catch. It's also an acquired taste. You either love it or hate it. I wasn't the first to point this out, by the way. The maker was. (That shows a real commitment to truth in advertising, I must say.) And which camp do I belong to? At first I didn't know. Then I tried it. The result? In a word — ambivalent. I didn't hate it. But I couldn't love it, either. At least I didn't love it as a sandwich spread, and I said as much in an earlier article. I did find it useful as a condiment, however.
That was that. Or so I thought. But it turns out Marmite's makers were right about the love‑hate thing all along, even if my own reaction didn't jibe with either extreme. The stuff really does evoke strong responses from most folks who try it. And they aren't shy about expressing their opinions, either. In short, I got a lot of mail around my Marmite column — so much mail, in fact, that I figured I ought to revisit the subject. I wanted to tell the whole story, not just my particular take on it. So here goes. Marmite. Again.
And what better way to begin than by giving readers…
The First Word
Starting with a letter from a man whose experience parallels my own:
Very funny article. Being vegetarian and hearing so much about it, I tried Marmite on a sandwich about 20 years ago and had similar reactions — Yuk! And too salty. After reading your article, I may have to give it another try in small doses, as a condiment or flavor agent.
Thanks for the laughs.
Cocoa Beach, Florida
John brings up a point that's worth repeating: Marmite is dairy‑ and meat‑free, so it's a natural choice for vegetarian and vegan menus. And a very small amount (a teaspoon or so) adds an interesting — yet not overpowering — flavor note when stirred into stews, soups, and pasta dishes. In other words, it's a powerful weapon in the battle of the blands, and a welcome addition to any expedition cook's arsenal.
That was my take on Marmite, anyway, and John would seem to agree. Other readers had very different responses, however. For them, their first taste was a Yum!‑moment, not a Yuk!‑moment:
Loved your article on Marmite. I started eating and drinking Marmite when I was three years old. Now I'm 73 years old and still love it, particularly as I am a vegetarian.
Good luck and happy paddling,
Maybe it helps if you start young — a notion that gets further support from north of the border:
MARMITE! Well I could not be more surprised. Marmite is a flavour that you have to acquire at your mother's breast, and few adults take to it. To say it is an acquired taste is huge understatement, to be sure. I love Marmite, and my Dad made sure my sister and I were weaned on that black ambrosia. Marmite sandwiches are great. May I suggest trying Marmite and cheddar, Marmite and honey, and Marmite and strawberry jam? They're all delicious. Another couple of Marmite goodies are: Twiglets (a Brit pretzel‑stick with a Marmite‑like flavour) and Walker's Marmite‑Flavoured Crisps.
Marmite is great stuff and helped build the Empire!
Robert Roe, Curator
Woodside National Historic Site of Canada
A taste acquired at your mother's breast? Well, as luck would have it, I'd just stumbled on a classic Marmite ad that suggested something of the sort (with a reverse twist, however), so I wrote back to Rob and asked if he'd ever seen it. He hadn't, but he lost no time in checking it out, with this result:
Now that You Tube clip was outrageous! I called my wife immediately and described it to her, and I will be forwarding it about.
Some notes on spring's advance here in southern Ontario: The snow is all but gone, last night the spring peepers started in the wetlands back of our farm, the bats came out the night before, as have the mourning cloak butterflies, and the swans are migrating through. It all points to the canoe back in the water soon.
Have a great spring!
Ah, spring! It's always a treat to see Canoe Country freed from winter's icy grip. There's more to life than eating, after all. Still, this week's column is about food, and Rob's theory that Marmite lovers were weaned on the stuff was confirmed in a letter from another reader:
Good afternoon, Tamia.
I just want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the article you wrote on Marmite. I've been eating Marmite my whole life. In fact, as family fable goes, I was weaned off my Mum's breast milk with the stuff, but I can certainly understand your apprehension and subsequent dislike of Marmite as anything other than a condiment. As a child I had to endure more Marmite‑and‑cucumber sandwiches than I care to remember, packed as lunch for trips to the beach (soggy, warm Marmite‑and‑cucumber sandwiches are disgusting!), but I have since grown to love Marmite on toast. It's one of those things that somehow encompasses all happy childhood memories into one mouthful.
I have a very funny Marmite story that I'd like to share with you, one that I think you would enjoy given your recent experiment with the stuff. When I was about 11 years old, I had a friend sleeping over, a friend who had never encountered Marmite, let alone eaten it. My Mum was putting Marmite on my breakfast toast. My friend mistakenly thought it was Nutella, the delicious chocolate‑and‑hazelnut spread. My friend then swiped the knife out of my Mum's hand, licked the "chocolate spread" off, and immediately recoiled when she realized that it was neither Nutella nor tasty! I will never forget the look on her face when she realized what it was. The look was a mixture of disgust and disdain towards her friend who would actually willingly ingest the horror that was in her mouth. So know that you are not alone in your feelings towards Marmite.
Thank you for bringing humour and helpful hints to something that is otherwise overlooked by most North Americans.
Mistaking Marmite for Nutella? Well, yes, it could be a bit of shock to the system. Still, it shouldn't cause any lasting damage — though it probably wouldn't do much to swell the ranks of Marmite lovers. That said, even if a taste for Marmite is usually acquired young, as both Emma and Rob suggest, there's no real reason why older folks can't change their minds, is there? Certainly not, as this note from the United Kingdom goes to show:
I tried Marmite once, more years ago than I care to remember. Never a great lover of anything too salty, so that's probably why I fell into the "Hate it!" camp. But your article has given me (if you'll pardon the pun) food for thought.
There is a small bottle of it going on the shopping list right now. And while I'm at the shops I might get a jar of Vegemite — an Australian product of similar sorts — and I'll compare the two.
If I still don't like it (them) then I'll have to think of some alternative uses. Looks like it could hold down an inner‑tube patch on my bike, or maybe it will secure a kneeling mat in the boy's canoe. And more. Araldite [an adhesive –Ed.] could be history.
Thanks for another interesting article.
Now there's a thought — Marmite as glue. Why not? If spruce gum works… Then again, I think I'd rather add Marmite to stick‑to‑my ribs meals than use it to stick bits onto my boat. It really shines in the role of compact condiment. That's my opinion, anyway. And I'm in good company:
I read your article on Marmite and found it quite interesting. I have used Marmite for years. My mother is English and came over to America after World War II. Most of my relatives in England use Marmite as a spread and enjoy it very much. My mother still enjoys Marmite as a spread on bread with a little added butter. It used to be you could not find it on this side of the Pond, and we had to rely on relatives to send us a care package every now and then to get our pantry stocked up with Marmite and other items from England.
I have used Marmite for years, but I use it to make gravy when we have a roast beef dinner. It is not surprising that you say it makes a good condiment, because that is how I use it. It is good in any and all types of sauces. But as far as putting it on a piece of bread? YUCK! I HATE it!
Just wanted to let you know I enjoyed your article.
Gary's letter pretty much settles the question, I think. Even if you can't love Marmite as a sandwich spread, the odds are good that you'll enjoy it as a condiment. And a little goes a long way — a very long way, in fact. As this letter from Ireland makes clear:
I loved your article about Marmite. As you say it is a British institution, and I suspect that l am not alone in assuming that it was enjoyed all over the world. I was therefore surprised to see you introduce it as some sort of exotic food.
Although your article is very comprehensive there are two points I think it would be useful to add.
You cannot emphasise enough how little Marmite that is normally needed. We normally use it as a sandwich spread, but the trick is to spread it so thin that it almost disappears — never leave lumps of it. Used this way it gives a great extra kick to cheese sandwiches (not that I eat cheese since becoming a vegan). It is also great on toast, or on crackers with hummus. If you make the mistake of spreading Marmite on too thickly, it will be overpowering and put you off for life.
The second thing is that too much is too good a thing. Our Marmite will sit at the back of the cupboard unused and forgotten for months. Then we will uncover it and, in a fit of enthusiasm for finding our long‑lost friend, we will have Marmite with everything and really enjoy it — for about a week. After which time we are sick of it and bury it again. Most people I know recognise these Marmite cycles. It seems to be addictive, but after a while you really have enough and need to leave off it for a couple of months.
Therefore, if you plan to take some along on a kayaking expedition, don't be tempted to have a binge with Marmite beforehand. Save it for a taste sensation, or you might find halfway through the trip you really have had enough of it.
"Marmite cycles"? Well, why not? It's a wonderful turn of phrase. And what conclusions can we draw from Peter's letter? Firstly, that Mae West was wrong. (As I've had reason to note before.) Too much of a good thing is sometimes just…too much. And secondly? That absence makes the heart grow fonder. That's familiar advice in matters far removed from cookery, but it has a culinary application, as well. In fact, I do reserve Marmite for occasional use. Almost any condiment can cloy if employed too often, and Marmite is no exception.
Which takes me back to the place where I began. I've got a jar of Marmite and a good‑sized chunk of fresh‑baked baguette before me. In a minute, I'm going to spread the Marmite on the bread — very thin — and give it another try. Will it be love this time around? I wonder. Well, here goes…
Camp food can be dull, right? No surprise there. So I'm always on the lookout for new ways to win the battle of the blands. And that's why I recently gave Marmite a try. It's a British institution, and I'm fond of a great many things from that green and pleasant land — Stilton cheese, Earl Grey tea, and single‑malt whisky, not to mention Yes, Prime Minister and Pie in the Sky. But it turned out that Marmite wasn't exactly my cup of tea. Or so I thought. Then readers started writing in, telling me how they used the stuff, and why they liked it. So what happens now? Will I have to eat my words? I think maybe I will. And when I do, you can bet I'll spread a little Marmite on them, just to help them slip down more easily!
PS Thanks to everyone who wrote. I couldn't have done this without you. And yes, I know that "green and pleasant land" refers to England proper, not Britain, and that single‑malt whisky is quintessentially Scottish. It's British only by courtesy, in other words. But I hope readers won't take me to task if I stretch a point or two here. Plus, I really do like a wee dram of an evening.
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