News of New Zealand’s Marmite shortage prompts an obsessive condiment quest and savory baked buns
Driving to the grocery store last evening, I hear on NPR what I initially take for an early April Fool’s Day joke: “‘Don’t freak.’ That’s what New Zealanders are being told about the Marmite shortage there. For Kiwis, that’s a big deal. So the manufacturer of Marmite is doing its best to avert panic…”
Say what, Robert Siegel?
Sitting in the grocery store parking lot, I listen to the rest of the story, waiting for the punchline. There isn’t one. Apparently, a world away, this is a big deal. Marmite, I learn, is a dark, salty spread, a “culinary cousin of Vegemite”, a yeast extract, and a beloved breakfast staple for New Zealanders. It is now being rationed because of supply shortages, brought on by last year’s earthquake that affected the country’s processing plant. As I listen, I whip out my phone and quickly Google the stuff, trying to understand how this condiment’s curtailment could make waves as world news. I read the following fun facts. Marmite is:
- A dark, salty, savory spread, made from yeast yielded as a by-product of brewing beer;
- Produced in the United Kingdom by Unilever, and sold as a sweeter version in New Zealand by a company called Sanitarium;
- Touted as very nutritional, being high in B-vitamins, riboflavin, and niacin;
- Commonly used as a spread on toast or in sandwiches;
- Named for the French word for stock pot or cooking pot;
- Popular with vegetarians as a meat-free alternative to beef extract products;
- Best consumed with cheese and bread…
Well, hello there. An accompaniment to cheese and bread? Marmite, I must have you now. Suddenly, my grocery shopping takes an obsessive turn. I must get my hands on Marmite, before the rationing hits our hemisphere! It doesn’t occur to me that Marmite is not readily available locally. While shopping, I slowly pick through the “International” aisle, but go figure…there is no “British/Australian/New Zealand” section. Nothing turns up in the organic/healthier food aisles, either. Then I decide to try the downtown “snooty foods” specialty market. I call first.
“Hi. Do you carry Marmite?” Pause, then giggle. “Um, yes.”
Ten minutes later, with a miniscule $8 jar in hand, I am at the register as the store is closing. “Are you the one who just called about the Marmite? Man, I wouldn’t know what to do with that stuff!” Me, sheepishly: “Yeah, I am not really sure either. But they say it’s supposed to be good with cheese.” Clerk: “Yeah, and bread…”
Homeward bound with my petite pot of brown gold, I mentally think through my experimental preparation. And recall Robert Siegel’s closing words to the All Things Considered segment that kicked off this quest: “Marmite production is expected to resume in July. One can only hope that will be soon enough to avert what Kiwis are calling ‘Marmageddon’…”
Savory Marmite Cheddar Buns
Three simple ingredients: Refrigerated buttery crescent roll dough, Marmite, and 6 oz. shredded sharp Cheddar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the crescent dough from the packaging, then ball it up!
Roll out the dough until it is quite thin, and about 9×12 inches.
Sparingly spread Marmite onto the rolled dough. This stuff is potent! Top with shredded Cheddar.
Tightly roll the topped dough from the narrower end. Seal the end of the roll with your fingertips to secure snugly. Slice into 1-inch sections, creating 8-10 rolls, and place onto baking sheet.
Bake for 15-17 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown.
Best enjoyed with a strong beer. I find that Marmite is definitely an acquired taste, and am not sure how Kiwis eat the stuff for breakfast, even in a sweeter form. The consistency and depth of, say, molasses, but with the bite of Worcestershire sauce and salty acidity of tomato paste. The Marmite website is a lot of fun, and has some other recipes that I will definitely try, as they are variations on this bread-cheddar-Marmite theme.Have you tried Marmite? Are you a “lover” or a “hater”? How do you eat it? Would you like to buy a slightly used jar of Marmite for, say, $7.50?