I like to think I’m pretty food adventurous. I have no allergies, eat just about everything, will happily gobble down various animal parts, and have never turned my nose up at a cheese no matter how stinky.
But there is one food – and I use the term loosely here – that I cannot abide. I’m not alone in hating Marmite, the “savoury spread containing B vitamins” from the U.K. It’s such a polarizing product that the brand’s marketing strategy has capitalized on the fact with a series of hilarious ads depicting people who either “love it or hate it.” (Miracle Whip totally ripped it off, by the way.) So, why should I be made to feel like less of a foodie for finding it yucky?
First: let’s be clear about what the little jar of British brown goo is. It’s yeast extract, a byproduct of beer brewing. It’s deceivingly sweet looking, like a cousin of Nutella…until you smell it, that is. Then you realize it’s as far from sweet as funky can get. My colleague described it as: “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.”
This is what’s meant to be so daringly delicious, so ballsy and British and only understood by the precious few? I beg to differ. It’s super salty, so much so that the saline overwhelms just about every other nuance in the earthy flavor profile. I’ve heard it compared to natto, the sharp-tasting Japanese fermented soybean dish – which I like, mind you – but it’s far less complex.
To be truthful, Marmite might not turn my stomach so much if it weren’t a breakfast food (natto is also a breakfast food, but I’d rather eat it for lunch or dinner). I like funky, sharp, fermented flavors. But in the morning? Give me jam. Or a schmear. I’ll save the smelly strange stuff for after my coffee, thank you.
But what really bothers me is crowing of it all. Why the pissing contest over who can stomach the glutinous spread? I don’t see why I should be made to feel like an epicurean outcast because I prefer not to assault my palate with fermented goop first thing in the morning. When I lived in London some years ago, I had a flatmate who ate the stuff. He seemed to enjoy the fact that he loved Marmite more than he actually loved Marmite. And our other flatmate who hated it? She didn’t seem to like much of anything other than plain boiled potatoes – why should I be lumped in with her just because I prefer to keep my mornings yeast extract-free?
Now, nearly 15 years later, I have Marmite in my cupboard again. A good friend from the U.K. is visiting me in New York and brought me a jar of Marmite as a gift. A gag, I can only assume. He also brought me, from the Marmite section of Selfridges, a Marmite chocolate bar. (Yes, there is a whole department store section dedicated to the yeasty spread where you can buy Marmite butter dishes, collector’s spoons and Marmite XO, an “extra old” version of the stuff. Extra ick, if you ask me.)
Instead of the “love it or hate it” tagline, the Marmite-infused bar of milk chocolate is branded “very peculiar.” And you know what? It’s not bad. In fact, the salty, savory hint and earthy mouth-coating effect when you let a square of it melt on your tongue are rather pleasant. So there.
I might suggest a new, far less catchy slogan for Marmite: It has its time and place. On a grilled-cheese sandwich? I can buy that. Judiciously folded into peanut brittle? Hey, if bacon works… why not? But slathered onto buttered toast with my morning cortado? No, thank you.
If this is something that appeals to you, good for you. But don’t delude yourself into thinking it makes you some sort of existential, avant-garde, take-no-prisoners gastronome. Not every acquired taste is a question of sophistication. So, yeah, no need to brag about it, mate.
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