There are only a few British products I must have in the US. Branston Pickle is one of them (and I am sure that will be the subject of a forthcoming post here). Marmite is another. When I first moved here, I had some difficulty finding it, and so I instructed English friends coming over here to bring a jar over. I have since found it from time to time in the so-called "International aisle" at some grocery stores, and I usually make a point of picking some up if I see it in a place like that, because it can be expensive in specialist British food stores or online.
If you have never heard of Marmite or you are not certain what it is, I am not sure a description will suffice. Of course, even if you know what it is, you may be one of those in the "Hate It" camp. Marmite is a great divider. People either love it or hate it. The manufacturers of Marmite have actually exploited this characteristic of their product, and "Love It or Hate It" has become an advertising slogan. The official Marmite website even has Love It and Hate It sections. I love it. The rest of my family hates it.
So what exactly is in the characteristic glass jar that causes such a love/hate reaction? Originally a by-product of the brewing industry, the thick, salty, sticky dark-brown goo is yeast extract. It is also rich in Vitamin B complex, which helped sales of the product when vitamins were discovered in the early 20th Century. It was also given to troops suffering from beriberi (a vitamin deficiency) during World War I. The name Marmite comes from the French word for an earthenware pot, and it did originally come in an earthenware jar. You can find out more about the history of Marmite on the Marmite Wikipedia page.
It has a very strong taste. Often used as a spread on bread or toast, I recommend people to spread it very thinly, so as not to be overpowering. Many people enjoy it with cheese in a sandwich. Because spreading the thick substance often destroys soft bread, the company introduced a slightly thinner product in a "squeezy" plastic jar ideal for this purpose. Unfortunately, this has resulted in the removal of the cute 57g size jar from the product range.
Marmite is also produced in New Zealand, although it has a different flavor, being slightly sweeter than the British version. That product is available in New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Islands. Readers may also be familiar with the Australian product Vegemite. I have always described Vegemite as "Marmite for Wimps."
What else can you do with Marmite? An English friend, Emma Bruce, recommends it spread on toast with scrambled egg on top, or in a sandwich with cucumber. Chef Gary Rhodes came up with some recipes featuring Marmite, to help celebrate the launch of the "squeezable" product. A British photographer, food blogger and host of an underground restaurant who goes by the nickname of MsMarmiteLover even came up with a special menu, which featured Marmite in each dish, for an evening at her dining establishment. It apparently went down rather well!
So where do you stand on the "Love it or Hate it" question? Do you have any favorite recipes or Marmite stories? Let me know!