One morning, when my mother-in-law, Cyrena, was staying over at our place, I decided to give her a culinary treat. She’s Chinese, so this is a woman who can eat chicken feet or intestines with aplomb, and I wanted to introduce her to my own somewhat unconventional food passion: Marmite. I spread some on her toast. She tasted it.
And then she asked me, “Why would you eat that?”
Even the people behind the marketing of Marmite would acknowledge that she was on to something. After all, their cheeky slogan is Marmite: Love it or hate it. I wouldn’t even call it an acquired taste. Either you get it or you don’t. The distinctly powerful spread derived from yeast extract tastes like the stinkiest cheese you could imagine, boiled down to glue-like goo. It’s what I’d imagine boullion must taste like if you took a bite of a cube. Not that you would.
It’s a British thing, who are not exactly known for their culinary finesse, so maybe that explains why its appeal is so…rarified. The English company’s ad campaign embraces both the haters and the lovers, so they’re having fun with it.
I may be one of the few Americans who eats the stuff regularly, but that’s fine with me. It’s the perfect thing in the morning when I want something savory on my toast.
If you’re going to try it, it’s important to remember that a little bit goes a long way. The Brits like to put it on their sandwiches, which they tend to fetishize. I have tried to do the same (a smear of Marmite along with a slice of swiss, avocado and red onion works great), but really I just like it for breakfast. I spread a dab on cream cheese and toast. Its intensity is a great starter, and the health benefits, which are high, are actually ancillary — but it is nice knowing that it is loaded with Vitamin B12, which does the body good, especially the kidneys, liver, nervous system and skin.
I first got wind of the stuff when I heard that annoying 1980s Men at Work song, “Down Under,” in which Colin Hay sings about a man in Brussels giving him a Vegemite sandwich. I always wondered about that funny-named sandwich. (I was that kind of kid.) While I couldn’t find the Australian Vegemite, I eventually came upon its cousin, Marmite, which appears to have cornered the American market on weird, fungi-derived goop that tastes like gold.
You’re either with me or against me on this one.
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