I was standing in the cafeteria of my London office this morning, bemoaning the unhurried approach that the decrepit toaster was taking to the Maillard reaction. Thetoaster has no respect for my time. While I contemplated the toaster’s demise, my unfocused daze perused the various toast topping possibilities before me. Butter, margarine, jam, honey, Marmite, cream cheese, marmalade. Strawberry, raspberry, peach, orange. Wait a minute, backup. Marmite. I’d never had Marmite before.
From what I’ve heard about Marmite – and I think the same goes for Vegemite and Bovril – you either love it or you hate it. In fact, www.marmite.com asks the question, “Do you love or hate Marmite?” I stood there before what may have been the most critical decision of the day, and hesitatingly picked up the Marmite. Ingredients: yeast extract, salt, vegetable extract, niacin, thiamine, spice extracts, riboflavin, folic acid, celery extract, vitamin B12. Sounds terrible. “Ding,” said the toaster.
Back at my desk, I neatly buttered two slices of wheat bread and looked at the self-serving package of Marmite. I turned it over. Strange. I wanted to see inside, so I peeled back the lid. If I hadn’t already known that Marmite is some kind of yeast extract, I would have seen the shiny black paste and expected a chocolaty taste, something akin to Nutella. But years of beer brewing and bread making conditioned my mind to the potential evils of yeast, so I knew what I was getting into.
I decided to spread the gooey mess onto one of the two slices of toast – that way if it was horrible, at least I’d have one decent slice left for breakfast. Out of the container, the stuff is sticky and stringy. It has an inherent heaviness, and a bit got away and stuck and smeared on the surface of my desk. I couldn’t really smell much about it, so I dove right in. The first thing I noticed is how salty it is. Not good for high blood pressure, I thought. And the taste? I would say it is similar to eating a bouillon cube. Beef bouillon, specifically. What surprised me the most was that I didn’t hate it; I didn’t necessarily like it, either. I thought I was going to be hopelessly flung into one corner or the other, instead I ended up somewhere in the middle.
I can understand why some people hate Marmite, but at the same time, I can understand where the cult following comes from. Taste preferences are strange. Would I eat it again? Yes, but I wouldn’t seek it out or crave it, and I would say that 9 times out of 10 I would reach for marmalade or jam first.
So if you haven’t tasted Marmite, Vegemite, or Bovril, it may be time to give some a try. There is a good chance you’ll hate it, but there’s also a good chance you’ll love it. You never know, you could even end up indifferent.