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What is the history of Marmite?

What is the history of Marmite?

Do you love Marmite or do you hate it? We look back at the history of this controversial but iconic British spread

Marmite has been in the news recently, alongside another popular icon. Singer and icon Elton John has collaborated with Marmite to bring out a “Rocketman” jar to raise money for the The Elton John AIDS Foundation. Every jar will see a 50p donation go towards his foundation.  

Nowadays there is an array of different flavours and variations to tickle the tastebuds. Love it or hate it, this tangy toast spread isn’t going away. But let’s go back over 100 years to see where it all started.  

Marmite's origins 

Marmite was originally created accidentally in the late 19th century by German scientist, Justus von Liebig. He discovered that brewer’s yeast, a by-product of the beer-making process, could also be eaten when it was concentrated and bottled. Nice discovery!

Marmite spread on toast

Marmite is a historical spread in Britain!

From there, it was launched in 1902 by the Marmite Food Company, which became Marmite Ltd, set up in Burton-on-Trent. The local breweries provided the raw material needed to produce it, and so history was made! Initially the recipe contained a savoury mixture of celery, salt and spices. But later vitamin B12, folic acid, thiamin and riboflavin were added. The yeast released soluble amino acids and proteins before it went through a secret process for its flavour. It is now owned by Unilever. 

Nutrition and diet

It was put forward in 1912, that dietary deficiency of particular vitamins could be responsible for certain diseases. Marmite was found to be a rich source of B vitamins, and from then on became a popular part of the diet in many schools and hospitals. It even became part of soldiers’ ration packs during the First World War and a dietary supplement in prisoner of war camps in the Second World War.  

"Marmite even became part of soldiers’ ration packs during the First World War"

Dr Deborah Lee of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy states, “It is a great source of five essential B vitamins. B vitamins are vital for cell metabolism, producing red blood cells, eyesight, brain function, digestion, and heart function.” 

Pot and jar

Originally Marmite was served in an earthenware pot, similar to the French casserole dish, called a “Marmite,” (pronounced Mar-meet), which is where its name comes from. This Marmite dish can be seen on the front of your modern Marmite pot.

A French marmite

A traditional French marmite © Koreller, via Wikimedia Commons

The classic jar shape came into use in the 1920s and the colourful label has become synonymous with the brand.

Love it or hate it? 

But what is it about the taste that gets to people one way or another? I asked a few Marmite lovers/haters for their tales from the tastebuds. 

Julia Champion recalls, “I went travelling around the world with two friends when I was 23. We were away from home for six months, so our loving mums packed a jar of Marmite in our suitcases and posted some to us as we were missing it and you couldn't get it outside of the UK back then (1992). One of my friends met a Swedish man and had a holiday romance with him. I remember travelling on a coach with the Swede and his Swedish best friend—Thomas and Pontus. We gave them a Marmite sandwich to try and they literally went green and spat it out in disgust! And these were two blokes who chewed tobacco!” 

"What is it about the taste that gets to people one way or another?"

Jemma Beedle also remembers, “I hated it with a passion until I got pregnant, craved it, ate loads, and now still love it nearly five years later. I assume something to do with being vegetarian and low iron or B12. But funnily enough, my tastes didn't go back to normal after giving birth!” 

In media 

Elton John was spotted with a few jars of the yeasty beast in a social media post last year. Hence the publicity campaign raising money for his AIDS Foundation began. Indeed, Marmite has been in many famous campaigns throughout the years including, “The growing up spread you never grow out of,” and the slogan, “My Mate, Marmite,” on 1980s TV adverts.  

Elton John

Elton John has collaborated with Marmite to raise money for The Elton John AIDS Foundation © David Shankbone, via Wikimedia Commons

In 2002, when Marmite hit its 100th birthday, the company was valued at £30 million, that’s a lot of toast spreader! There have been I Love Marmite/I Hate Marmite websites where people were actively encouraged to share their different experiences of it.

Limited editions 

Since then we’ve had limited edition Guinness Marmite. While alcohol-free, they still retained a noticeable Guinness flavour. In 2012, for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, a special colour scheme based on the Union Jack was created, entitled “Ma’amite”. We’ve also had the flower-power hippy version called the Marmite Summer of Love Special Edition.  

"As singer Chrissie Hynde once stated, 'It’s a thin line between love and hate'"

In November 2015, for the first time ever, Marmite offered consumers the chance to personalise their jars, which they purchased via a Facebook app, and for a limited time, in a pop-up shop in Westfield. Names could be added to the much-loved labels as well as a Naughty or Nice option, especially designed for Christmas, such is the popularity of this national treasure.  

As singer Chrissie Hynde once stated, “It’s a thin line between love and hate.” 

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