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As a Marmite shortage threatens NZ, here's nine things you never knew about the brown stuff

Marmite sculpture, UK

By Duncan Wilson

Dubbed "Marmageddon", today's news that a Marmite shortage is looming has had snackers discussing the famous spread all over the country.

New Zealand has always voiced a special relationship with Marmite; something I found baffling, despite being a fan of the brown, sticky-stuff's abilities atop a piece of buttered white toast.

In fact, the way NZ talks about Marmite is as if it was a Kiwi invention, first bottled in Ashburton in 1847, then exported to the entire world for all to enjoy.

It wasn't.

1. Marmite was first produced in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire in the United Kingdom. The year was 1902. It was even made in London for a time, too. It wasn't discovered by a Brit, however...

2. No, it took German Justus von Liebig at the end of the 19th Century to discover the unique process of concentrating and bottling the yeast leftover from beer brewing.

3. A couple of decades later, German soldiers soon found themselves facing British soldiers pumped-up on Marmite, as the product was included in World War I rations for the British armed forces.

4. Britain has a Marmite sculpture (pictured, courtesy of steve p). The name 'Marmite' comes from the French word for the cooking pot shaped jar that the UK product is sold in.

5. Marmite is not easily available in France or Germany.

6. Marmite is not banned in Denmark, despite sensational reports in the world media that the government had banned it. Danish food safety legislation requires retailers of foodstuffs that contain added vitamins to have a Veterinary and Food Administration licence. Since the Danish importers of Marmite was not licensed in this way, they stopped selling the product.

7. The main ingredients added to the British recipe to make New Zealand Marmite are sugar and caramel. The obesity crisis: Every little helps. Sanatarium bought the rights to use the brand name and it has been manufactured in New Zealand since 1919.

8. Marmite is not an effective mosquito repellent, despite its vitamin B content. In 2005, a study by the Dept. of Zoology at the University of Wisconsin concluded that there was "no effect of vitamin B supplementation" on the attractiveness of humans to mosquitoes.

9. Marmite was used alongside quinine in the 1934-5 malaria epidemic of Sri Lanka and was noted by a witness to "have been more effective than the quinine itself". It is more likely, however, that the resultant mobilisation was down to the starvation of the recipients and their received sustenance from the product's consumption.

So, the continued aftershocks in Christchurch may have forced the closure of the Marmite factory; we may not be able to get our hands on any fresh stocks until July (without buying the British import 'Our Mate', that is), but at least we're all a little bit wiser about the history of this product.

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