Marmite is quintessentially British, in as much as foreigners can’t understand it, but a large part of the British population love the stuff. That’s foreigners with perhaps, the exception of Australians who have ‘Vegemite’ which is very similar in taste and texture.
Let’s get back to basics, ‘Marmite’ is described as ‘yeast extract’ and was originally a by product of the brewing industry. It was first manufactured in 1902 in Burton on Trent in the Midlands, coincidentally (or rather not) the home of the massive Bass brewing concern who provided the yeast extract as a by product of their beer brewing. The name comes from the French word for the casserole dish shown on the label.
Marmite is traditionally served spread thinly on hot buttered toast or possibly added to a cheese sandwich. The flavour is salty and beefy, despite no beef being involved in the manufacturing.
Bill Bryson famously wrote in ‘Notes from a Small Island’ “There are certain things that you have to be British, or at least older than me, or possibly both, to appreciate: skiffle music, salt-cellars with a single hole, [and] Marmite (an edible yeast extract with the visual properties of an industrial lubricant).”
It is, however, not universally liked, and Marmite have played on this in recent advertising campaigns, you either love it or hate it. And this in turn has brought Marmite into the broader language, people, places and things are now described as ‘Marmite’ – you either love them or hate them.
In recent years the company has produced special limited editions of Marmite, including one based on Guinness yeast in 2007 – to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, a champagne yeast edition for Valentine’s day in 2008, and in 2009 a limited edition based on the yeast used in the brewing of Marston’s ‘Pedigree’ Beer, to celebrate ‘The Ashes’ cricket series. The jar has been decorated to resemble a cricket ball.