Tuesday, 18 November 2008

My Mate...but is it yours too?

We spent an hour or so trundling round the supermarket this morning. Sainsbury's, as it happens. The place is currently undergoing refurbishment, and, to facilitate this, it appears necessary to move shelves and freezer cabinets around from time to time. Thus, where yesterday beer could be found, today that particular spot is home to Aunt Bessie's frozen scones, or some such. It's only when when things like this happen that you realise what a creature of habit you are, being 'thrown' by the movement of baked goods from one aisle to another.

We bought all the usual stuff; bread, milk, the organic tinned tomatoes I like to use in curries. No need to get any Marmite; I already have a whacking great jar of that at home. 'They' say of Marmite, 'You either love it or you hate it'. However, I recently heard a late night radio presenter descibe it as 'alright', which would seem to fly in the face of the popular folkloric view of love/hate, and could possibly throw the company's promotion of the product on that basis into confusion. It is a very clever campaign. How many other products advertise their goods on the basis that half the people watching the commercial are likely to hate whatever it is they are selling?

I'll nail my colours to the mast. I love Marmite, particularly as a component of a Marmite and peanut butter sandwich on white bread. To some people this seems to be a rather unusual sandwich, and others have described it as downright disgusting. But why? I have heard tell of Marmite and bean sprout sandwiches, a mixture of Marmite and butter smeared over fish and chips, Marmite and mashed potato on toast, Marmite and broccoli sandwiches, hot cross buns with margarine and Marmite. One correspondent on the Guardian's food blog recommends Marmite and 'mucky fat' sandwiches. You know the dripping and jelly you are left with after roasting a joint of meat? She advocates a layer of meat jelly, a layer of dripping, and a smear of Marmite on top. And if that's not food porn I don't know what is. It makes my Marmite and Sun-Pat sound quite pedestrian.

Marmite was first produced in 1902 at a factory in Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire, a town known for its breweries; not surprising, since Marmite's main component is brewer's yeast, originally obtained from the Bass brewery. During the brewing of beer, yeast is added to a 'mash' of malted barley and hops, the fermentation process starts, and the sugar in the malt is converted to alcohol. At the conclusion of the process a large amount of sludge is left. This is the used brewer's yeast, which is subsequently broken down, filtered and concentrated, and combined with the other ingredients to make Marmite. The brown stuff is high in vitamin B, apparently helping to regulate the liver, kidneys and nervous system. Its health-promoting properties saw it issued to soldiers in the first world war as part of their ration pack, and to british prisoners in the second world war as a dietary supplement.

As you would expect, Marmite trundled on for years unchanged in its familiar jar (a 'marmite' is the French name for a two-handled cooking pot, a picture of which appears on the label), but then marketing stepped up a gear. We have since had squeezy Marmite, Marmite with champagne and another version with Guinness. Crisps, biscuits, rice cakes and sausages have all recently been available flavoured with Marmite, and Paddington Bear was persuaded to forego his marmalade sandwiches in favour of Marmite in a recent TV and radio advertising campaign. And, in an ultimate expression of love for yeast extract, sculptor Jeremy Fattorini took two and a half weeks to coat a copy of Rodin's statue The Kiss in champagne Marmite, using 420 jars in the process.

I think the love/hate thing lies in the fact that Marmite is umami, the Japanese word for savoury. When I was at school, it was thought that there were only four 'tastes' - sweet, salt, sour and bitter - but umami has been acknowledged in the East for many years. The tongue receptors for umami pick up natural amino acids, glutamic acids and glutamates which are present in such foods as Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, parmesan cheese, soy sauce...and Marmite! You might want to check out the company website here, and at the same time one of the anti-Marmite sites.

Since we've grown to know each other a little better, I think I can let you into the secret of my other yeast extract based vice; a thickly-spread fried Marmite sandwich, topped with a runny fried egg. Yum!


Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I too think of Marmite as "alright", something I might have a few times a year at those times when staring into the fridge or cupboard one finds nothing else to spread on the already toasting bread.

By the way, your Marmite has expired.

Oh, word verification = suppe

chris hale said...

Thanks for your honesty, Rob. I'm not 'Marmitist' about these things! I've always been a 'savoury' person; I used to crumble oxo cubes into bags of plain crisps when you could only get ready salted.

Damn those sell-by dates! Before they existed we just used to sniff the contents of jar or packet. If it smelt OK, we ate it!

willow said...

I've never tasted Marmite and am intrigued. In fact, I had a dream about eating Marmite on toast the other night. Strange.

I'm over from Rob's place, BTW, and am adding your delightful blog to my blogroll. Hope that's okay.

chris hale said...

Hi Willow, and welcome to my blog.

I'm sure a dream about eating Marmite must mean something...probably that you are about to have some unfamiliar but interesting experience. I'm intrigued to know how it tasted in your dream!

Thank you for adding me to your blogroll; I hope you'll not mind if I return the compliment.

Val said...

OMG I had to immediately go and have a marmite sandwich - just perfect! great blog. came here from Rob at Inukshuk Adventures.
and how did the Romans make a fish sauce anyway?
will be back. thanks!

Janet said...

I'm in the HATE IT camp. Marmite is the work of the devil.

My lovely husband loves it, though. But I make him use mouthwash, after eating Marmite, before I'll kiss him.


chris hale said...

Hi Val. Yay! A Marmiteophile!

Thanks for dropping by, and if you're serious about the fish sauce:


Hi Janet.

Wah! A Marmiteophobe! But don't worry. I won't hold it against you. Perhaps you would prever Vegemite, or even Bovril?

razmabaz said...


Just popped over from the comment you left on my blog - Thanks.

Interesting read.... love the stuff, always have done.... probably always will!

Feel free to drop in.... not much progress lately - courtesy of moving and BT ~ lack of internet. I would blog about it but even I couldn't write that much :-(

Stevyn Colgan said...

Marmite is tops.

Meanwhile, Vegemite is pure brown evil. It's horrible stuff when compared to King M.

Damn you Men at work and your catchy 1980s singalong pop for promoting the vile stuff!

chris hale said...

Razmabaz - with your comment and Stevyn's I make that four pro the brown stuff, one against and an 'OK'. The yeast shall inherit the earth!

Stevyn - I heartily concur with your sentiments regarding Vegemite. Tried it, couldn't get on with it...

Brit' Gal Sarah said...

YUK YUK YUK I HATE MARMITE! Could I be any clearer ;-)

Over here from Rob's

chris hale said...

Hello Brit Gal!

So, are you saying you're not keen on Marmite?

Anonymous said...

Chris, I'm also a bit unclear on that. You know she's been in Okieland over 3 years now.....