Trade name for a savoury spread made from yeast extract, salt, vegetable extracts, vitamins, and celery extract. Usually served spread very thinly on toast.
The precise receipt and method of manufacture remain secret, but it is thought to be derived from waste brewery yeast mixed with salt so as to break down the cell walls and then concentrated using the process pioneered by the German chemist Justus von Liebig (1803-1873), the 'Father of Artificial Fertilizer'. The Marmite Food Extract Company was formed in Burton upon Trent, a major brewing centre, in 1902, and is now owned by Unilever.
In 1999 Edward De Bono, the celebrated master of lateral thinking, suggested to the UK foreign office that Marmite might be the answer to the seemingly intractable problems of the Middle East. There, he reasoned, they tend to eat unleavened bread and so miss out on the zinc found in yeast, and a lack of zinc makes men irritable and belligerent. Marmite is high in zinc, hence it is a way to peace.
There is a long-standing, and quite uncorroborated, opinion that eating Marmite can ward off mosquitoes.
Bill Bryson, in 'Notes from a Small Island' described Marmite as "an edible yeast extract with the visual properties of an industrial lubricant..."
Yeast extract spreads seem to have a curious nationalism. Britain clings to 'Marmite' and Australia to 'Vegemite' so parts of Germany and Poland have 'Vitam-R', the French-Speaking part of Switzerland has 'Cenovis' and 'Brazil' has 'Cenovit', but to the rest of the world these yeast pastes are more-or-less unknown.
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