Marmite

Black gold as the Romans called it, jar tar to you and me.

We’ve all had our share of rows over apricot jam, but no condiment is as controversial as Marmite. As someone who’s been known to scoop it out of the jar with a breadstick, I’m firmly in the “love” camp. In my case it’s a love that verges on amour fou, something I realised after a long battle with Twiglet addiction. You can imagine how horrified I was when I heard news of a Marmite shortage earlier this month. The company announced on twitter that some of their range would be unavailable due to “a temporary reduction in yeast supply.” Talk about kicking a twink when he’s down. First the flour drought, now this? I was relieved to find that although squeezy Marmite bottles are hard to come by, Marmite-flavoured cashews are still on the shelves.

My attempts to promote Marmite often get a frosty reception, especially from Europeans. In my experience, they find it the most perplexing aspect of our strange food culture. I’ve won French friends over to scotch eggs and English wines in the past, but the salty condiment always proves to be une bridge trop far. Australia and New Zealand are some of the only countries that share our love of spreadable yeast extract, and some would argue they do it better. I’ve been a Vegemite evangelist ever since a memorable night I spent with a Kiwi, but as a cooking ingredient you can’t beat good old British yeast.

Marmite is regularly used by professional chefs because it’s full of umami. This makes it perfect for adding meaty richness to stews and sauces. Thanks to Marmite, insipid ragu and low blood-pressure are things of my past. I recently made Felicity Cloake’s vegetarian chilli which has a rich, complex flavour. The key ingredient? Our friend the Beast from the Yeast. As well as enhancing savoury flavours, Marmite helps to balance sweet ones. Try coating parsnips in a glaze made from Marmite and olive oil. When used sparingly, the spread can even work in deserts. It gives a subtle salted caramel effect which is especially delicious with chocolate. Marmite championed this unusual combination by releasing an easter egg in 2019. I’m yet to try it but I can vouch for another controversial pairing: Marmite and banana. My Mum used to have this on toast which horrified me and my brother as children. I’m still unconvinced by it as a breakfast food, but the flavours work. Put Marmite and banana in a cake and you have something even the biggest naysayers will enjoy. The lashings of rum that go into it are probably what wins people round.

Boozy Marmite and banana loaf

100g unsalted butter, softened (plus a bit to grease the tin)
3 overripe bananas, mashed
3 tbsp dark rum
2 tsp Marmite
180g self-raising flour
25g ground almonds
1½ tsp baking powder
100g dark brown sugar
2 large eggs

  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C (170°C fan). Grease a 2lb/900g loaf tin with butter and line with greaseproof paper.
  2. Blitz the banana, rum and Marmite in a food processor until smooth.
  3. Sift the flour, ground almonds and baking powder into a bowl and set aside.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in the eggs, adding a tablespoon of the dry ingredients if the mixture starts to curdle.
  5. Carefully fold in the banana mixture and the rest of the dry ingredients, alternating between the two until everything is well combined.
  6. Spoon into the prepared tin and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean (a few crumbs are fine).

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