29 Dec 2011

I quite like Marmite

Some may say that I go from the sublime to the ridiculous in successively treating subjects such as the drawing of Rodin and Marmite, a very humble English foodstuff. But life is full of changes of scale and contradictions, so here goes...

Marmite is the name given to a food spread made in Britain, although New Zealand also produces its own version (unfortunately with added sugar; yuck!), and Australia as well (under the name "Vegemite" in the case of Australia, which is a country that prides itself on its individuality). The name derives from the French word for a specific kind of cooking vessel (either made of metal or earthenware) in which one prepares soups or stews, and the connection is that Marmite (the foodstuff) was originally supplied in an earthenware pot. I suppose another connection is that this stuff is seriously reduced and also very salty. The earthenware jars were replaced by glass jars in the 1920's. Although it looks like treacle, Marmite is salty and not at all sweet, but it is just as thick in its consistency. There is also a thinner version in plastic (re-yuck) jars, but that is definitely not the real thing: in fact it's rather like one-day cricket compared to proper five-day test cricket.

Unlike me, Marmite is vegetarian. It even says, emphatically, 100% vegetarian on the label. I am unsure as to whether one can be 99% or 75% vegetarian. Why not in a sense? The problem is that these poeple do tend to be a little extremist, so you probably wouldn't be considered as kosher. Marmite is made with yeast extract which started off, I believe, as a by-product from beweries. So we have Marmite thanks to British beer. Since it makes you pretty thirsty, I guess we should have a couple of beers on hand when eating the stuff. It also contains, apart from salt (about which I have already banged on a bit) the following stuff, according to the back label: vegetable extract (including celery, although they curiously mention celery in the bit on spices!), Niacin, Thiamin, Spice Extracts, Roboflavin, Folic Acid, Vitamin B12. Not sure than all this makes it more desirable to me, but such are the traps of modern health and foodstuff regulations.

I have yet to find a Frenchman who likes Marmite, but I am sure that such a person exists. I like it quite a lot, but in periods. As you might guess, I am in a "like-it-a-lot" period right now. The official web site for Marmite tries to divide you into two polarised categories : "love it", or "hate it". Bit extreme for me!

What does it look like? Essentially an apparently unappetizing sticky dark brown paste that oozes slightly when placed in a sloping surface (a bit less so than honey).

What does it taste like? Hard one this. If you made a kind of soup base from vegetable stock cubes and then reduced it until what was left was almost sticking to the saucepan, I suppose that you would be quite close. The strength of the flavours gives Marmite a lot of "bite", so I prefer putting butter on bread or biscuits before spreading the stuff on them. And I rarely eat butter.

And please don't ask me what wine to drink with the stuff...

I have recently heard of an interesting variation on Marmite, using yeast from another favourite dark-coloured substance: Guinness

If anyone cares to send me a pot of this (limited) edition, I would be eternally grateful