It's fair to say that the word "Marmite" inspires abject fear in some and mouth-watering pleasure in others.
To those from the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and perhaps Australia (we'll let you off with Vegemite), more than any other product Marmite has come to define the love/hate relationship with food.
Firstly, what is Marmite?
Marmite is a spreadable yeast extract fortified with vitamins and folic acid. It's very salty, but incredibly rich in 'umami,' the same deep and rich taste sensation you'd get from soy sauce or kombu/kelp.
The name 'marmite' actually comes from a French dish, which is on the front of every jar or tube.
The History of Marmite
The rich, salty flavour of Marmite is undoubtedly its most divisive point, and successive marketing campaigns with the slogan "Love it or Hate it" for the last 15 years have captured this dichotomy perfectly and have succeeded in enhancing Marmite's infamy.
A quick scour of the web brings me such gems as 'The Marmite messiah: How a mother found Jesus in a jar', 'Spread no more: Denmark bans Marmite' and a host of brave souls sampling it on YouTube.
Other advertising campaigns have focused on its divisive taste, or it's status as a British culinary institution. Marmite has joined the ranks of Mr Bean, Margeret Thatcher,
It's also frequently used as a cross-over product, although in some occasions as an April Fool's joke.
Marmite and Natto
After living in Japan and seeing the reaction many have to natto, fermented soy beans, it's tempting to draw comparisons with Marmite. And while I love "the brown stuff", I can't stomach those beans.
While both are the most polarizing foods in their respective countries, Marmite, by virtue of being a brand and not just a foodstuff, has managed to foster a cult of personality that natto has been unable to obtain. And while there does exist an East-West (Kanto-Kansai) divide on the issue, I think it's mostly a free-for-all.
So excuse me while I have myself a slice of Marmite on toast.
Marmite: A Design Icon?
One other aspect of Marmite worth sharing is its design.
Since its introduction in 1902, imaginative advertising campaigns have been used to persuade consumers to find the courage to try it.
Until the 1920s, it was served in earth pots, similar to the one on the current label. After production increased and glass became cheaper, it was sold in the familiar brown glass jar.
Marmite received a great boost from 1912 onwards with the discovery of vitamins: Marmite was packed with them. Ever since, Marmite has been marketed as healthy product, something good for you, as below.
The label design is maintained even today, making it a classic image of British design.