This week, we’re taking a look at those international foods popularly thought of as “gross” and testing that theory. (Yay for us.) How bad are they…really?
Photo credit: Julia Bainbridge
Marmite. It’s a brown, sticky paste made from yeast extract—basically concentrated, bottled brewer’s yeast—and sold and consumed mostly in England. Similar products are Vegemite and Promite, eaten in Australia and New Zealand, and Bovril, which is made from meat extract. Most people eat it on toast, in cheese sandwiches, or mixed with hot water as a savory tonic.
This is what we learned talking to Swallow magazine editor James Casey, an Englishman now living in New York City. “It’s a polarizing thing in the U.K., he says. ”You either love Marmite or hate Marmite.” (True, the marketing slogan is “Love it or hate it.”) Casey says that if you grew up with it, you love it, as he does—he continues to eat it in his downtown apartment almost daily. ”It’s pure umami,” he says. “It’s salty and warm and melty and delicious.”
Those against it told us that it makes them gag, basically. And those people are numerous: The Hate Marmite Party, for example, is a Facebook group with over 205,000 members aimed at “stopping the spread of Marmite.”
But is it really so bad to warrant an organized group of people whose goal is to terminate it from the Earth?
"That was the grossest thing I have ever eaten, and I have eaten a lot of gross things," said one of our editors after an in-house taste test. She summed up the experience of Marmite on toast as being "wholly unpleasant."
Another was more even-handed: “If you were raised on it, you might have developed [an acceptance for] that sort of super-salty taste. But it stays on your teeth even through three sips of coffee; that’s staying power.”
Across the board, the high salt factor was an issue. ”It’s like Worcestershire sauce to the thousandth percentile.”
On a positive note, one of us “could see how a little bit added to a sauce could add depth. It’s got so much umami going on.” But we all agreed it was still too intense. Perhaps we spread it on a little too thick, but we did our research in advance, taking care to use about a quarter of the amount of peanut butter we would use in the same case.
"It’s not DISGUSTING, it’s distinctive," said one very sentimental editor. "I feel bad for it.”
To be fair, we might not have tasted it correctly. Casey told us that when taken on toast for breakfast in the U.K., it generally comes after a smear of butter. We imagine that softens the salt. Brits also use it on sandwiches—and “you always put butter on sandwiches in the U.K.”—but they use a small amount, one akin to “the amount of toothpaste you put on a toothbrush.”
Still, on the Gross Scale (0 being the most palatable, 5 being the grossest), we give it a 4.5.