Marmite, like oysters and stinky tofu, is a substance that tends to polarise people, if not actually horrify them. Salty, yeasty and often served on hot, buttered toast, it should never (but often is) be visually confused with chocolate spread.
Marmite is, like pavlova, the meringue pudding claimed as the national dish by both Australians and New Zealanders, the subject of a vicious international rivalry.
Australians love Vegemite, their answer to Marmite. The British? Well, (many) of us love Marmite, and we are all convinced that we invented it.
Marmite, despite the French name (a marmite is a type of jar), is a very English creation. Marmite attributes its creation to a German scientist named Liebig who discovered that brewer’s yeast cells could be concentrated and then eaten.
Less romantically, it springs from the British breweries in Burton-on-Trent, which found themselves, like breweries around the world, stranded with a lot of yeasty, malty slurry to be disposed of once the brewing process was finished.
So, rather than sell it as pig food for pennies a ton, a favoured use of brewers grains, they decided to turn it into something rather more saleable.
The solution? Add salt. Some extra vitamins. Some health food schtick.
And serve on toast…
Marmite XO is turbo-charged marmite, a parodic response to the trend among marketeers to release increasingly upscale variations on every single brand, from cosmetics, to booze, to food.
Modelled on an “XO” brandy (and, yes, XO brandy is cheap brandy, but I can’t be too literal or I’d be, well, toast), Marmite XO launched last year with a black lid replacing the iconic yellow one. It claims, on the superbly pretentious label, to be four times the age of normal Marmite, and four times as tasty.
Well, in my highly unscientific blind tasting, two Marmite lovers correctly distinguished the new stuff from the old stuff when served on crusty bread with butter. And both found the new stuff good.
Like the original, Marmite XO is yeasty, dark, flavour-packed and contains far more salt than is good for anyone. Like the original, it pairs perfectly with hot buttered toast, fresh crusty bread and butter or even, for the minimalist, crackers.
And if you have a Marmite lover in your life, and you’re in the UK, I’d recommend picking up a jar. Or even sourcing one online.