Marmite, the new must-have

I was going to call this Marmite, the new black, but oh wait…it already is. Purists would say it’s a very dark brown, but I’m not going there. For those of you who have only just arrived back on this planet, and haven’t caught up with the news, you need to be made aware of the latest crisis in New Zealand…an impending shortage of Marmite.

What, you may ask is Marmite? It’s edible Kiwiana. Originally English (like many Kiwis), it is a savoury spread, which was imported around 1910 then made with NZ ingredients from around 1930. This meant that it became quite different from its ancestors – also like many Kiwis, really. It has its own website –, and is made by Sanitarium.

Here’s the back-story in brief: Sanitarium makes Marmite in their Marmite factory in Christchurch, which you will recall has had a series of devastating earthquakes. Their factory building has been damaged and has to be fixed before they can resume Marmite production, so they’ve announced to the media that existing stocks in NZ will run out before they can get the factory going again – July of this year, they’re hoping.

Below is the notice that pops up when you go to the Marmite website…

I didn’t know there was a special Marmite factory; I now have visions of Oompah-Loompahs ladling Marmite into jars, singing a jolly tune while they do it.

There are similar products, notably the Australian Vegemite. Being the cosmopolitan type that I am, I can eat both Marmite and Vegemite (never at the same time, and don’t try that at home), and the NZ Prime Minister has weighed into the debate with the same opinion – apparently the Prime Ministerial office has a stash of the good stuff, however in a pinch he can choke down Vegemite if he has to. Trust a pollie to play both sides of the game.

#Marmite is trending on Twitter, Marmageddon has its own page on Facebook, and it’s entirely possible that the evening news will lead with the Marmite story. Jars of it are already being auctioned, and it’s only a short amount of time before we see people in dark alleys flashing open trench coats to reveal jars of Marmite.

One-up-man-ship will be occurring in offices everywhere…daring souls will pull out their jar of Marmite from their locked desk drawer, spread it on a cracker with some NZ butter, then return the jar to the safety of the locked drawer. Marmite has a unique scent, so some total bastards may wander around the office with Marmite-spread cracker in hand before finally wolfing it down.

Speaking of one-up-man-ship, in a moment of one-up-woman-ship, the photograph at the top is of my own personal jar of Marmite. OK it’s small, and yes, there isn’t anything else in my larder, but I’ve still got a wee jar of the stuff, and it’s half full. Someone was in the paper this morning advising people to spread it on toast instead of bread, as the heat from the toast would make the Marmite go further. Even the science boffins are weighing in, it seems.

Once upon a time, I was tour manager for a classical ensemble from New York, on their way around Australia. Naturally they wanted to experience all things Australian, so after we’d seen the Koalas asleep in gum trees, kangaroos bounding past and people wearing hats with corks bobbing around (just kidding – I’ve never seen an Australian wear a hat with a cork in it), I mentioned Vegemite. I suggested they try it for breakfast, and told them how to apply it to the toast: “just a thin spread” – concerned as I was that being Americans who eat lashings of peanut butter with jam (shudder), they might have spread their Vegemite on toast with the same abandon as peanut butter. As we Marmite/Vegemite connoisseurs know all too well, a thick spread will end in tears. Many tears, and an involuntary twisting of the mouth similar to that  produced when eating an unripe persimmon. Moderation, people, moderation. Think of it as caviar – a little goes a long way.

Back to the Americans. After breakfast, I asked them if they’d tried the Vegemite. Long pause, they looking slightly embarrassed, and, as they clearly didn’t want to offend me, said in New York twangs …”We Didn’t Like It”. Most emphatically, with heads shaking firmly in the negative. I said it was an acquired taste, and as we generally acquired it in childhood, they shouldn’t feel too bad at their inability to truly appreciate it. However, in the interest of diplomatic relations, I was able to introduce them to some fine Australian red wines later that day, so all was well again.

Speaking of all being well, I can’t tell you how complacent I feel, knowing that I have my little half-jar of Marmite to see me through the crisis. There’s nothing like having something that everyone wants, and can’t get, for making a person feel great. I may not spread my Marmite on anything, but just open the jar and inhale the aroma every so often. Not too closely though, as that can also result in a certain amount of eye watering.

I might just toddle off now, and have a wee sniff of my Marmite jar….if the next blog is about addiction, you’ll know that Marmite sniffing has its downside.


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