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The umami battle of the 'mites' (mar,vege,pro,aussie...)

"Marmite is a British icon. Vegemite is an Australian icon. Since Brits and Aussies have sporting rivalries, mischievous senses of humour and a love of profanity, this results in a lot of amplified teasing."

Andrew Staples/Quora

Now I will state right at the outset that I do not like any of these 'mites'. I never have. I think my mother tried with marmite but it wasn't for me. I preferred cheese. So why on earth am I looking at the 'mites'?

Well because of this ad in the Coles Magazine:

"Our delicious RSPCA Approved Coles Hot Roast Chicken now comes infused with vegemite and a cheesy stuffing."

Which sounds completely revolting to me. We do buy the cooked roast chicken every now and then for a pasta salad, but the stuffing is horrible - well I guess it's out of a packet, because it reminds me of the PAXO stuffings my mother used to use when I was a child. Not completely revolting, but I have now tasted 'real' stuffing so the packet stuff is just horrible, tasting a bit of sawdust. And adding cheese into that sounds awful too. 'Infused with Vegemite' sounds rather sinister to me as well. Pumped in with extra water I guess. It's so Ozzie blokey though isn't it - the ad I mean - 'Aussie faves' although coupled with 'New at Coles - Exclusive' and made with real Vegemite. I wonder if Vegemite (well Bega) get a kickback from it as well - and if it's cheese stuffing that's probably Bega too.

It's true what that quote at the top of the page says though isn't it? It's hugely nationalistic. Australia is all over the packaging. As is Marmite - nationalistic I mean. Maybe that partly explains my repugnance, because I am very anti nationalism - to the point of not yet being an Australian citizen simply because I do not want to swear allegiance to anyone or anything. Maybe I will one day. Who knows.

I suspect I have at least touched on the subject of Vegemite before, - I think from the point of view of its commercial history - but here I am doing it again. In two ways - the first of which is a comparison.

I think the fundamental difference between the two main contenders - Marmite (a Unilever product by the way) and Vegemite - is that Marmite is meat based and Vegemite is vegetable based. Yeast is involved, and salt as well. And you don't use much of it. You sort of spread it on your bread or toast and then scrape it off again. My children liked it when they were young - but then they are Australian.

What I found interesting, having looked now at a few 'reviews' of these products is how that nationalism creeps in even in blind tastings. First of all I found on Quora - where someone had asked about the difference - a useful summary from one Justin Wastage who said that he was a Pom who lived in Australia and was therefor unbiased. Hm. This is what he said:

"Marmite (UK). Savoury, umami, and intensely satisfying. Just as perfect paired with a beurre d’Isigny and baguette or a sourdough crumpet.

Marmite XO (UK). As above, only even more perfect. Extra old, aged Marmite. Just the most delicious spread ever

Vegemite A little sweeter than Marmite, not as pungent, so no need to spread quite as thin.

Promite (NZ). Sweet and sickly. Almost fudgy vegetable extract (not yeast). In a dire emergency as a side with toast when having mince for breakfast in Auckland.

Aussie Mite (Aus). A surprise hit. Midway between Marmite UK and Vegemite. My kids prefer Veg and I prefer Marm. This satisfies both. Savoury with a hint of sweetness.

Cenovis (Switzerland). The outlier in the yeast extract stakes. French-speaking Switzerland has Cenovis, available in green or blue (salt reduced). If I ever had to be denied Marmite UK, this would be my replacement. Salty, herbal and delicious. Seek it out if you like any of the above."

I had never heard of Cenovis. Cenovis to me is vitamin pills. I wonder if there is any connection.

Nevertheless in the same thread I came across this - from an Australian:

"Vegemite is edible the other two attempt to be.

To paraphrase one of my favorite authors : Marmite and Promite taste almost, but not quite, entirely unlike Vegemite" Nicholi Valentin/Quora

And Choice - the Australian Which - ran a blind tasting - with the result that the unsalted Vegemite came out on top with Vegemite second. Nobody liked Promite - too sweet - and hardly anyone liked Marmite, but - and here's the thing - only one of the 31 testers had grown up eating Marmite. So it looks like what you grew up with is what you like. Although surely that cannot be because most of us like things as a grown up that we would never have touched as a child. My sister would not touch onions when she was a child, to the point that our mother had often to make two different versions of things like stews - one with onions, one without. Now my sister, like virtually everyone, loves them. So why could you not become a late life lover of Marmite or Vegemite - depending on whether you are English or Australian?

Of course, you could always make your own. I found one 'authorised' recipe for Home-made marmite - 'authorised' in the sense that it is from a professional website - Great British Chefs and publicised in The Guardian by Stuart Heritage who says of it:

"The good news is that it is easy, requiring only sourdough bread, water, yeast and sugar. The bad news is that it is time-consuming, clocking in at two and a half days. Still, what else are you doing with your free time?"

Well anything but, is the answer to that one.

I could not find an 'approved source' recipe for vegemite but there are lots of them out there, so I just picked the first one - Home-made vegemite from a website called Earth Chick . The vegan nature of Vegemite is stressed here - and in lots of other recipes too. Well vegan is a thing and Marmite is not vegan. This is why the author considers it to be better than the real thing:

"It’s based on black tahini, which is loaded with natural earth-made vitamins & minerals and a whole heap of other health benefits

Making it at home means you can use your own natural salt (because hopefully by now you don’t have any sign of refined salt in your pantry)!

It contains brewers yeast, just like the original Vegemite, which gives it a similar flavour as well as the added nutritional benefits of brewers yeast

It can be made gluten-free if needed

It’s slightly nuttier and wayyy creamier than the original – SO much more delicious, in my opinion"

Well that would be her opinion wouldn't it and - 'tahini'? Surely this would turn it into something completely different. I mean it might be delicious, but not Vegemite surely. Anyway, as I said there are others, and I doubt if any of us are going to try.

The second part of my post today is on the 'mites' as actual cooking ingredients. I think Nigella may have started all of this back in 2010 when she introduced her Spaghetti with marmite which she says she found in one of Anna Del Conte's books. This is the official photograph although I have to wonder whether this is the completed dish. There is no colouration from the Marmite and no Parmesan on top - which you are told to do and which one fan said added even more deliciousness. Maybe the shot was taken before the Marmite - which you dilute with melted butter and pasta water - was mixed in.

It was a dish that divided the nation but Nigella - and many others - have fiercely defended it:

"I know the combination of pasta and Marmite sounds odd to the point of unfeasibility, but wait a moment, there is a traditional day-after-the-roast pasta dish, in which spaghetti is tossed in stock, and I have eaten shortcut versions of this in Italy (recreated guiltlessly in my own kitchen) which use a crumbled stock cube, along with some butter, olive oil, chopped rosemary and a little of the pasta cooking water to make a flavoursome sauce for spaghetti. If you think about it, Marmite offers saltiness and savouriness the way a stock cube might. I'm glad this recipe is here, and I thank Anna for it." Nigella Lawson

Indeed somebody said that adding a little Vegemite (or was it Marmite) to vegetable stock made it much more palatable. And maybe simple is a good, no the best thing:

"if something as brazenly simplistic as cacio e pepe can be a thing, then spaghetti with marmite can, too." Stuart Heritage /The Guardian

I'm going to test the 'simple' thing out tonight with Elizabeth David's Poulet à l'estragon so that I can make Chicken Caesar salad tomorrow. And I will concur that cacio e pepe is delicious - and Pasta al limone too.

Nigella's comment about the stock though is obviously the main way that the 'mites' are used by chefs. When I looked for recipes I found a very large number for things like meat pies, and stews, and in marinades, sauces and glazes for steaks. Well anything really. So I have restricted my found offerings to some that are a little bit different. And there's just one meat offering in the bunch.

"Marmite, peanut butter and banana smoothies. This was one of Stuart Heritage's picks, but he didn't sound that keen:

"I know, right? If you make this, please let me know, because I don’t have the guts."

Two savoury ones both of which I think look doable - one from English/Indian Meera Sodha - Marmite risotto with tomato and crispy chilli butter although even she says that the Marmite is a background ingredient rather than the real one - the tomatoes; and Lamb gaytime pops from Aussie Colin Fassnidge. The crispy looking bits there are crushed macadamias.

Two sweet. Sweet? Well why not - salted caramel after all is big. Vegemite lamingtons from Warren Mendes of delicious. which look amazing, but I really don't know about the concept and Vegemite cheesecake from the delicious. team. Ditto.

And finally a drink - Bloody Sheila from a Sydney bar. I guess that might work.

As I said there are heaps and heaps of recipes using a 'mite' out there. It has become one of those common little umami additions like gochujang, Worcestershire sauce, black limes and so on. I don't know whether Nigella really started it all or whether people had been cooking with the 'mites' ever since their invention back in the nineteenth century. Maybe Nigella, being Nigella just brought it to the forefront of consciousness at a time when 'authenticity' was all. Mixing spaghetti with Marmite was sinful to the purists.

I can imagine that adding a touch to some kind of beef dish might well be that little something that you can't put your finger on but which lifts a dish up several levels. The kind of thing that an Ottolenghi might do, although the only offering I can find from him is in the batter for some fish, and in the butter slathered on some buns that include chestnuts - and that's from Noor Murad anyway. I do have a little jar in the pantry left over from my grandchildren's childhoods. Maybe I should experiment. It's not a summer thing though is it?


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