I have a love: a secret, salty, dark rich love. It’s not a love that everyone shares, especially here in America. It’s a love that stretches back to my childhood, to some of my first memories. It’s a love for Marmite. And it’s not just a little crush, here and then gone: it’s an addiction.
Marmite, for the uninitiated, is a staple of UK cuisine, and a dividing line gastronomically: people either love it or hate it. Forced to describe how it looks, I say it looks like axle grease, which doesn’t tend to be a food turn-on. Telling someone about what’s inside that familiar round pot of dark brown glass with its yellow lid—yeast extract—doesn’t do much more to entice the newcomer.
Ah, but it is enticing; right now I can feel its siren call, the promise of its earthy, briny tang on my tongue. I salivate as I imagine the dark glisten of Marmite on the surface of a slice of lightly buttered bread or just a gleam of Marmite on the end of a spoon: a salted, savory promise.
I grew up eating Marmite: my mother put it on bread and in stews, carrying the small pots, precious objects, carefully wrapped in her carry-on in trips across the pole. When I left home I craved it, and visits home meant short stints of rekindling my Marmite love.
Then, occasionally, Marmite appeared on American shelves, a shy presence in the crowded Ethnic foods aisle. You could only find the tiniest of the pots and it was very expensive, but ah, that taste. I soon became used to Marmite at almost any time. And then, I didn’t, for I moved to state where, sadly, there seems to be no Marmite to be had, not even for ready money.
Marmite, which has a place on so many shelves in some many kitchens all over the world, is not found in my new home state. We have giant magnolia trees, enormous insects with innumerable legs, great fleets of massive trucks, and so much humidity that a person can break a sweat sitting and reading (academic exercise indeed), but no, there is no Marmite.
At first, I was unaware of the extent of my yearning. Certainly, I missed Marmite, particularly with scrambled eggs, finding them incredibly bland without Marmite’s rich brown kiss, but I told myself that I would be fine. Yes, it was one more thing I complained about, homesick and sad and comparing everything in this new state with the old state, but I’d adjust, right?
Then I noticed that my left eyelid started to feel heavy as the evening wore on. Next, I found that when I woke up in the middle of the night that that eyelid was really heavy. It was a strange, surreal experience to try to open my eyelid, the simplest of things, and find it so difficult. My eyelid became heavier and heavier at night, almost closing down completely, so that when I got up in the middle of the night I had to look out of one eye, as if I was some sort of drowsy pirate wandering around with a fleshy eye patch. And I had a hunger, a hunger that nothing seemed to satisfy. I dreamed of a giant dollop of Marmite on the end of a stick or a spoon: a very different kind of lollypop.
More months, no Marmite, and my weird eyelid behavior continued. I did some Internet sleuthing and there it was: but it was too expensive. I really shouldn’t, I thought, so I waited. The eyelid problem continued, making me feel as if I had no control of my body. So back to the Internet, this time to try to figure out a solution to my pirate problem. One search, so many hits, almost endless possibilities. One of the many was nutritional deficiency: not me, right? I’ve been a vegetarian for many years, but I’ve always done at least a somewhat okay job of balancing my nutritional needs. But as I read the list, which included vitamin B12, Niacin, and Folic Acid, I thought of my Marmite.
I placed the order and soon it arrived. I broke open the package, twisted the lid, and inhaled the aroma in short sniffs and then a long inhale. I made toast: spreading butter, slicing cheese, a thin layer of Marmite between the butter and cheese. The smell filled my tiny kitchen. I took a bite: crunch, salt, smooth, fat, starch, so much more than that. Reading the label on the Marmite jar I noticed that it indeed listed B12, Folic Acid, and Niacin. And it was probably a placebo effect, but some weeks later I didn’t notice the eyelid problem. It was probably a case of more sleep, eye ointment, a change in the weather, or something of that kind, but I don’t care: I’ll chalk the cure up to one thing and one thing only: Marmite.