I came out in a cold sweat when I read about the Marmite shortage in New Zealand. My fingers and toes were crossed that the crisis wouldn’t spread to the UK but, as you might have seen from today’s headlines, it has.
In New Zealand and Australia, Marmite’s actually made by a different company – the trademark was bestowed to manufacturer Sanitarium as a royal gift by King Edward VII in 1908.
The recipe down under even differs from our own, with added caramel and liquorice – no wonder Aussies despise the stuff, instead preferring to spread Vegemite on their Fairy bread.
As for me, Vegemite is banned from my cupboards. I save my cravings for the treacly texture of Marmite – on toast, in sandwiches, on pancakes and pizzas, with crackers and cheese. It’s the perfect salty spread, made from yeast extract, spices, celery and carrots. But now, it might be on its way out.
Don’t panic buy, even if you love Marmite
Unilever, which holds the Marmite brand in the UK, is running short of one of its key (yet secret) ingredients and is now warning fans to spread it thinly on their toast. Edward Hoecks, Unilever’s head of Marmite relations, put this plea out to Britons:
‘We know how much the country loves Marmite, but we’re asking you to refrain from panic buying. Most people have a half-finished jar gathering dust at the back of a cupboard, so there’s no need to rush out to the shops just yet.
‘Why not ask your friends and relatives who “hate it” to donate some Marmite to someone who “loves it”? In the meantime, we’re doing our best to get our remaining supplies to retailers.’
Sadly, people have already taken to stripping Marmite from shop shelves. Tesco yesterday announced that the majority of its supermarkets had run out of the largest size of Marmite jars, with other supermarkets reporting a similar influx.
Current estimates suggest that Marmite sales have increased by around 220%, with the government already making an extra £330k in VAT.
The hashtag #Marmitegate has been trending on Twitter for the past 24 hours, with a number of famous faces putting their hands up as Marmite lovers, including Jonathon Ross, Elizabeth Hurley and chef Raymond Blanc (who caused a stir by claiming Marmite was a French invention). The Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt even tweeted that he spreads Marmite on his chest (like Vicks vapour rub I imagine) before races to help him breathe in more air.
Jars have turned up for auction on eBay (one sold for as much as £162!), though there have been reports of touts filling empty Marmite jars with their own concoctions. My advice is to make sure you stay vigilant and only buy from reputable sellers.
The potted history of my mate Marmite
So let’s reminisce about Britain’s favourite spread with three not widely known Marmite facts:
1. Marmite was first introduced into Britain in the late 19th century, as a medicinal aid. The Victorians believed the strong, black substance could help with anything from headaches to marital difficulties. Somewhat infamously, one gentleman took his love for it too far – Edgar Mandeville was buried with a jar of Marmite in 1886 (the same year Coca Cola was invented).
2. Marmite was included in soldiers’ ration packs during both World Wars. However, it did more than just console homesick soldiers – in the absence of disinfectant, nurses and doctors would often rub Marmite onto soldiers’ wounds to sanitise them. This had the added benefits of both holding wounds together and repelling insects, like mosquitoes.
3. The iconic circle-fronted jar caused controversy in 2006, when fans of the spread protested outside Unilever’s London headquarters to try and stop the roll-out of the new ‘squeezy’ Marmite tub design. Unilever was forced to disperse the crowd with Marmite spray cannons.
No-one could deny that Marmite is a British institution; I’m sure even the Queen spreads it on her crumpets of a morning. So, I really do hope Unilever sorts out the problem soon, as I don’t think I could ever give it up.
Here’s my toast to Marmite! May this black and salty treacle return to full health in due course. Have Marmite stocks been running low near you? And do you love or hate Marmite?