With its distinctive taste, it punches above its weight, is almost always sold at full price and is a marketer’s dream.
Don’t say it…
It’s impossible to talk about Marmite without mentioning the only thing more familiar than its salty taste – the ubiquitous 1996 “Love it or hate it” marketing slogan. It is so well known that the name of the product has itself become synonymous with anything that polarises opinion. A staple of many a breakfast, the spread is great on toast – or not, depending on your preference.
So what gives that characteristic tang?
Marmite is essentially yeast extract, concentrated and mixed with salt, celery and a secret concoction of spices. Invented in the 19th century when German chemist Justus Liebig first concentrated brewer’s yeast, a by-product of beer-making, the recipe has remained relatively unchanged for 100 years – other than a special edition that used a blend of Guinness yeast. In 2008, there was also a Valentine’s Day Champagne edition, exclusive to Selfridges.
German? I thought Marmite was as British as bowler hats
That’s not the spread’s only foreign connection: ‘marmite’ is actually the French word for a cooking pot. However, the product’s supply chain has always been very domestic. Marmite Food Extract Company, established in 1902, first sourced its yeast from local breweries near its factory in Burton-on-Trent. Most of the ingredients are still sourced in the UK, and the original factory is still operational. No spread is an island, however: Marmite played a central role in the post-Brexit price row between Tesco and Unilever – which has owned the spread since 2000.
Marmitegate did leave me concerned about my vitamin intake…
And so it should have. The spread is such a good source of many B vitamins it was issued to soldiers during World War I. The presence of folic acid also allowed it to be used as a treatment for anaemia in factory workers, and many vegans use it as a source of B-12 – though this is actually added to the spread, as it is not naturally found in the yeast extract.
Talk about versatile…
Indeed, though there have also been less commendable uses. In 2009, newspapers reported prisoners were using Marmite to brew moonshine alcohol. The ‘Marmite mule’, so the Daily Express reported, had a fruit-juice base with the yeasty spread added to aid fermentation. Dartmoor prison, in Devon, responded by curtailing allowances of Marmite and tinned fruit.
Marmite usually sells a steady £500,000 worth of spread a week in the UK, but sales reportedly jumped 61% after jars returned to shelves and online following Marmitegate, when Tesco had taken exception to Unilever’s post-Brexit price hike.