The Marmite FAQ

This version revised 19 Mar 2012.

    From the Guardian (12 Nov 94), re: Paul Ridout, one of the British backpackers kidnapped in India by Kashmiri separatists, and recently freed:
The first thing he had done after arriving home was to eat some Marmite on toast. "It was pretty good. It's just one of those things—you get out of the country and it's all you can think about."


Contents

  1. What is Marmite?
  2. What do I do with it?
  3. What are the ingredients?
  4. Who makes it?
  5. How is it made?
  6. Is it Vegetarian?
  7. Is it Natural?
  8. Is it Kosher?
  9. Where can I buy it outside Britain?
  10. Where does the name "Marmite" come from?
  11. What advertising campaigns have there been?
  12. What are Vegemite, Promite, Bovril and Yeast Extract?
  13. What other Marmite merchandise is available?
  14. Why was all this discussed on the British TV/Comedy newsgroups anyway?
  15. Are there any heavy metals in Marmite?
  16. Are there other Marmite-flavored food products?
  17. Can you point me to other Marmite-flavored Web sites?
  18. Search for more on Marmite
  19. Addendum

1. What is Marmite?

Marmite is dark brown-colored savory spread made from the yeast that is a by-product of the brewing industry. It has a very strong, slightly salty flavor. It is definitely a love-it-or-hate-it type of food.
    It comes in small (2-5 inches high) bulb-shaped glass jars with a distinctive yellow lid.
    Children in Britain are generally fed it from the time they are weaned, and most never grow out of it. It has a high B-vitamin content, as well as riboflavin and niacin—and as such is very healthy. (The vitamin-B complex helps prevent anemia.)
    Pippa MacGregor sent us this lovely snapshot of her son Kyle, age 16 months, after he got into the Marmite jar. She writes, "As you can see, he loves it!"

    Marmite may be stored at room temperature, even after the jar has been opened. Large jars will last months—even years—without any spoilage. (Old marmite can turn hard and lose its gooey spreadability, though.)
    An excellent Web site with info from the Marmite company is on line at: http://www.accomodata.co.uk/marmite.htm. The official Marmite page sponsored by Bestfoods is at: http://www.marmite.com/—including a fascinating chronicle of the history of Marmite.

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2. What do I do with it?

The most common use is as a spread on toast or in sandwiches. Note: it is generally spread very thinly because of its strong flavor—don't use it like jam. It has drug-like qualities; the more you eat, the thicker you need to spread it to get the same mouth-burning effect. Some people have even called it addictive.
    It is also delicious spread on hot buttered crumpets or ryvita crackers. A pregnant fan has reported a love for Marmite and bananas.
    Phil Johnson's favorite way to eat it is thinly-spread on rye toast with slices of sharp cheddar cheese. Very satisfying.
    One contributor to the "I love Marmite" Web site has this suggestion: "Eat it on raw spaghetti. It's true! Dip raw spaghetti in Marmite and then eat; it tastes just like Twiglets."
    A lot of Brits have it on buttered toast. Do take care not to get butter or bread crumbs in the Marmite jar. It makes an unappetizing mess for the next person.
    There is no feeling like the smugness you feel when you manage to scrape just enough Marmite from the jar for another piece of toast. Top tip (from James Kew): pour boiling water into a near-empty jar and drink the jar clean.
    A teaspoon of Marmite can also be added to soups, casseroles, and almost any savory food for a wonderful, rich flavoring.
    In England, pretzel-like morsels and other boxed fast-food snacks are available with Marmite flavoring. Fans of Mr. Bean will remember an episode where he made hors d'oeuvres for a party by spreading Marmite on twigs cut from a tree outside his kitchen window.
    In some neighborhoods it is (apparently!) common for nursing mothers to dab a little on their nipples before feeding their infants.
    There are reports that some balding men have tried smearing Marmite on their heads to promote hair growth. No assessment of whether it works, however.
    One reader of this FAQ writes: "I found you while surfing for Marmite. I don't know whom to tell but I think I have made a discovery. I used to get a lot of night cramps and took quinine. I did not like to take it every night and if I got a cramp I would eat a bit of salt. Because this makes me nauseous I tried Marmite. It stopped the cramp quite quickly. Then I started taking a teaspoonful of Marmite before going to sleep and I never get cramps now unless I forget to take it. This seems useful and I would like to share it."
    Of course this is anecdotal and the keepers of this FAQ hereby officially disavow all claims about medicinal uses of Marmite—especially the suggestion, made by an American, that Marmite is very effective as a topical ointment in the treatment of haemorrhoids.

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3. What are the ingredients?

Marmite is made from (greater quantity first):

  • Yeast Extract
  • Salt
  • Vegetable Extract
  • Vitamin: Niacin
  • Spices
  • Vitamins: B1, B2, Folic Acid, B12

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4. Who makes it?

Marmite is now owned by Unilever. It is made by different companies in different parts of the world, and often to a different recipe.
    It is produced in the UK by Unilever Bestfoods UK, and this is the original that you should try and seek out.
    In New Zealand it is made by the Sanitarium Health Food Company (a Seventh-Day Adventist outfit). It is sold in plastic jars with a white lid, and has a different set of ingredients:

  • Yeast
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Wheatgerm Extract
  • Mineral Salt (508)
  • Color (Caramel)
  • Herbs
  • Spices
  • Vitamins: Niacin, Thiamin, Riboflavin

Apart from the addition of Sugar and Caramel, the differences in ingredients are probably just down to the different labelling requirements of the two countries, and are basically the same. The addition of sugar is what gives NZ Marmite its "weaker" (some would say "less rancid") flavor.
    In 2011 the Sanitarium factory was damaged by a series of earthquakes and had to close for several months, creating a shortage of Marmite and related products in Australia and New Zealand.

Update (23 August 2006):Jennifer Dean, who works for Marmite at Unilever, writes via e-mail:

Marmite as we know and love it is made at Burton on Trent, the exact same product can be found in Australia and NZ under the name of Our Mate! Made in Burton we just can't use the Marmite name, someone else owns it!! Also most Marmite around the world is produced in Burton, it get shipped in big drums and just packed into a jar when it reaches its destination. Any variation in taste or texture is usually down to temperature controls and storage not because its a different formulation. Twiglets taste of Marmite as they use the same yeast extract, purchased from us!
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5. How is it made?

It is a natural by-product from brewer's yeast. The by-products of fermentation—yeast, barm, or leaven—had long since been known about, but it was not until Louis Pasteur's time that the secrets of living yeast were unlocked. A German chemist named Liebig discovered that the waste of yeast used in brewing beer could be self-digested and made into a concentrate, resulting in a protien-rich paste (some would say "sludge") with a more or less meaty flavor. (So Marmite is actually a Continental, not a British, invention! But the Brits were the first to make it commercially viable.)
    Some of the yeast extract used in British Marmite comes from Bass's brewery in Burton-on-Trent, and the rest is from various other breweries in the area. (The breweries pay Marmite to remove the yeast from their factories.) The main Marmite factory is about two miles away from the Bass brewery. Burton-on-Trent has been the home of Marmite since the patent was first acquired in 1902.
    A chemist speculates that Marmite is made by adding salt to the waste-product produced by the yeast in the brewing process, thus rupturing the yeast cells by osmotic pressure—and then concentrating the resulting sludge.
    A London-based biologist retorts:

Speaking as a biologist, i'd say that's not quite right; to rupture cells by osmotic pressure, you need to put them in a hypotonic medium, ie one lower in salt than the cell's interior. Adding salt to a yeast suspension won't make it hypotonic (or rather, any more hypotonic), and so wouldn't lead to rupture (which, when we want to sound like we know what we're talking about, we call 'lysis').
    What adding salt does is make the solution hypertonic, which leads to the cells shrivelling up; whilst this doesn't actually lyse them directly, it does trigger a process called 'autolysis', in which the yeast self-destruct. A bit of digging indicates that this is indeed how yeast extract is made industrially - salt is used to trigger autolysis, then the dying yeast are heated to complete their breakdown. All you have to do then is separate out the husks (yeast have big thick cell walls which wouldn't do the texture of the marmite much good), and you've got crude marmite. Huzzah!
    Perhaps someone should write a recipe, so people can make their own marmite at home. You never know, it could be the next foodie craze.

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6. Is it Vegetarian?

Marmite is approved by the Vegetarian Society. During the brewing process, some brewers add isinglass (extracted from the swim bladder of some poor Sturgeon) to help clarify their beer. However, the yeast extract is removed before the finings are added, so yes it is vegetarian.
    Other (cheaper) finings are available to brewers, and if the beer is brewed correctly, no clarification agents are needed.

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Marmite is Good

7. Is it Natural?

Wholly natural. Brewer's yeast may be the best source of the vitamin-B complex, so Marmite is rich with natural vitamin-B, as well as riboflavin and niacin.

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8. Is it Kosher?

Not in the strictest sense, though it is listed in the Really Jewish Guide as "suitable" for a Kosher diet. Here's how they answer the question on the Accomodata Web Site:

Marmite yeast extract spread has been listed in the Really Jewish Guide for some time as suitable for a Kosher diet, but with the status of 'not manufactured under Rabbinical supervision'. This listing resulted from Bestfoods UK Ltd supplying details of the manufacturing process and the ingredients used to the London Beth Din.
    Marmite spread is made on a dedicated plant from ingredients which would be acceptable for a Kosher diet, is of totally vegetarian origin and is approved by the Vegetarian Society.
    The plant has had a number of Rabbinical visits over the years in relation to the possibility of producing a fully supervised product. This has never progressed, largely because of a sticking point relating to the heating pipework which circulates around the factory.
    This pipework supplies indirect heating to the cooking vessels for both Marmite spread and also for Bovril drinks but the water circulating through the pipes does not come into contact with either product. It's a fully sealed system, and indeed has to be, for a variety of reasons not related to Kosher status.
    We have not made any alterations to the recipe for Marmite spread or the nature of the manufacturing process which might affect its Kosher status. What seems to have changed is the interpretation of the rules, resulting from an informal re-assessment by the London Beth Din of the way in which Marmite spread has always been made.
    In essence, the answer to the question of whether or not Marmite spread is Kosher depends on the degree of orthodoxy and adherence to the strict dietary laws governing Kosher lifestyle adopted by the individual.

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9. Where can I buy it outside Britain?

In the US, Burton-on-Trent Marmite is available from some specialist supermarkets, along with other British delicacies like HP Sauce.
    Jars of Marmite that aren't made in Burton-on-Trent are more widely available, but you should be able to find imported British jars if you look hard enough. The country of origin should be printed on the label.
    In our opinion—and we have tried Marmite from about seven different nations—nothing beats authentic British Marmite (though Singapore Marmite comes close, and Aussie Vegemite has its own special appeal).

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10. Where does the name "Marmite" come from?

A marmite is a French stock pot or cooking pot—like the one pictured on the front of the jar and shaped somewhat like the jar itself. The name of the French pot is pronounced "mar-MEET." The product name may have been derived from a famous French soup, petite marmite.

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11. What advertising campaigns have there been?

The memorable "My Mate—Marmite" adverts consist of an army regiment chanting a marching song consisting of the lyrics:

My Mate,
Whose Mate?
My Mate—Marmite.

[Were there any other lyrics? Probably not.]

They all then went back to the barracks to feast on their mate.
    A long-time advertising slogan used to promote Marmite is "The growing-up spread you never grow out of". This is more than a slogan, as most of the adult fans can attest to.
    For the 100th anniversary of Marmite in 2002, thirty-three London taxis were painted to feature the slogan, "100 years of HATE" on one side and "100 years of LOVE" on the other.
    In 2003, Marmite launched a controversial ad campaign featuring a lifeguard whose snack of marmite and cheese is interrupted by the call of duty. He saves a another man's life with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Marmite kissWhen the drowning man recovers consciousness, he grabs the lifeguard's head and begins kissing him passionately, stirred by desire for the taste of Marmite on the lifeguard's lips.
    There was also a campaign featuring Jerry Hall (see note on this in Addendum below), which featured her going on and on about all these wonderful cities, and how she took her jar of Marmite with her all the time. Then she did a Charity Comedy thing (Comic Relief?) where someone asked her how many jars of Marmite she'd eaten. "Oh you don't *eat* it, you spread it" she said. The campaign was swiftly ended.

    For the canonical (and almost complete) history of Marmite advertising, we go to Unilever Bestfood Ltd., where they tell us:

  • The first major Marmite advertising campaign began in the 1930s. Central to this promotion was the use of characters whose faces incorporated the word good (see examples above). The theme was used on posters, shop display cards, brochures, recipe books and paper bags.
  • Soon afterwards, the rising awareness of vitamins was used in Marmite advertising. Typical adverts said, "A small quantity added to the daily diet will ensure you and your family are taking sufficient vitamin B to keep nerves, brain, and digestion in proper working order."
  • During World War II, housewives were encouraged to spread Marmite thinly and to "use it sparingly just now."
  • By the 1950s, Marmite claimed it had been handed down from generation to generation. Promotions were based on the benefits for children.
  • 1969—A Marmite TV advertisement featured a screenful of Marmite jars which disappeared one by one to reveal Marmite spread on freshly baked bread.
  • August 1969—"The Marmite Guide to Better Cooking" was available free with Marmite.
  • 1971—Marmite advertising featured the Marmite XI, 11 children who all ate Marmite in different ways to highlight the versatility of the product.
  • 1973—Marmite was advertised as "The Growing Up Spread."
  • In 1987 the well-known "MY MATE MARMITE" advertising campaign was launched.
  • September 1991—The "Early Words" advert featured "Marmite" as a baby's first words. At this time the brand produced a "My Mate Marmite" T-Shirts and teddy bears.
  • 1995—Marmite was so popular in Guyana, South America, that the brand sponsored a football team there with a Marmite-coloured strip.
  • In October 1996 the "Marmite love it/hate it" campaign began. The campaign explored the relationship consumers had with the spread.
  • 1998—A survey revealed that 35 percent of people loved Marmite, and 39 percent hated Marmite. Marmite branded buses appeared in major cities with the slogans "Honk if you eat Marmite" and "You'll Honk if you eat Marmite" on each side of the bus.
  • 14 February 2000 a 60-foot projection of "love is...hate is..." Marmite Adverts was projected onto a Chelsea gasometer by Victoria station, London.
  • May 2000—The "Apartment" advert featured a attractive girl who managed to disgust her would-be suitor by taking a bite of a Marmite covered bagel before kissing him.
  • 2002—Marmite celebrated its 100th birthday.
  • February 2002—the "love it/hate it" theme continued with a television advert featuring Zippy, a character from children's TV programme Rainbow, for Marmite's 100th birthday campaign. Zippy, who is notoriously greedy and talkative, is rendered speechless when he bites into a Marmite soldier and closes his mouth rather than taste any more.
  • Two other adverts featured in the campaign in the same year. One featured members of an Everest expedition who are confined to their tent. Two of them resort to wearing gas masks when their companion tucks into Marmite on toast.
  • The other portrayed an early 20th century freak show where a crowd are horrified to see the Marmite man eat spoonfuls straight from the jar. Retail stores could also get a Marmite Zippy bean toy.
  • Also for Marmite's 100th birthday, London taxis were being used to advertise Marmite. Thirty-three taxis were adorned with Marmite branding to spread the product around London, both being "icons of British life." The brand also launched a series of limited-edition labels featuring designs from 1902, 1940, and 1970.
  • May 2002—Marmite was giving away T-shirts designed by Vivienne Westwood as part of an on-pack promotion to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
  • In 2003 the "love it/hate it" theme continued. The TV commercial featured a lifeguard who had been eating Cheese and Marmite sandwiches, who rescues a drowning man with the Marmite kiss of life. The rescued man is so grateful for the taste of Marmite he kisses the lifeguard.
  • June 2003—Xtreme Sandwiching campaign was launched. It invited consumers to send in photo of themselves eating Marmite sandwiches in unusual places. The competition built on the fact that 14 percent of people take Marmite on holiday with them.

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12. What are Vegemite, Promite, Bovril and Yeast Extract?

Answer: They are not Marmite in any way or form.
    Vegemite is an Australian product, manufactured by Kraft Foods Ltd, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, and is generally described by Marmite fans as a weaker version spread than British-produced Marmite—I can personally back this statement up. Vegemite fans have claimed that it is stronger than some non British-produced Marmite, but that doesn't say much for that "Marmite".
    Its ingredients are:

  • Yeast Extract
  • Salt
  • Caramel
  • Malt Extract
  • Natural Flavor

Promite is another Australian Marmite knockoff. It is a vegetable extract spread, made by Master Foods of Australia, 25-49 Smith Street, Hillsdale, N.S.W. 2036, Australia.
    They say, "Promite Spread is a vegetable and yeast extract which is a delicious spread on toast or bread. Promite Spread can also be used in soups, casseroles or gravy for added flavour. Simply add to hot water for a delicious, nutritious hot drink. It has a smooth texture with a unique taste which all the family will love. The taste is slightly sweeter than other yeast spreads."
    Promite's ingredients are:

  • Vegetable Protein Extract
  • Yeast
  • Sugar
  • Caramel
  • Thickener (wheat starch)
  • Salt
  • Spices
  • Added Vitamins
  • Water Added

For years, Bovril was originally cow extract, but it was re-formulated in 2004 to allay fears of mad cow disease. This also had the advantage of making the product more politically-correct as a fully vegetarian product. Apparently, user satisfaction fell accordingly, so beef stock is once again the main ingredient. Like Marmite, Bovril is produced by Unilever Bestfoods UK. Its main use is as a flavoring for soups, and as a drink when you put a teaspoon of the stuff in a mug of boiling water. "Very warming on a cold winter night," according to the Unilever Bestfoods spokespeople.
    In Britain, most major supermarket chains sell a generic brand "Yeast Extract", which is the most similar (ingredients-wise) non-Marmite spread you can buy. It is generally a lot cheaper than the real thing, but not for purists.

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13. What other Marmite merchandise is available?

Let it not be said that the Marmite brand doesn't have severe marketing power. You can buy all sorts of products that bear the Marmite logo.
    For instance, you can get Marmite biscuits, Marmite cycling shirts, Marmite toy trucks, and of course Marmite cook books.

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14. Why was all this discussed on the British TV/Comedy newsgroups anyway?

Marmite is so ingrained in the British culture that many comedians and TV series contain references to it. It is not widely known outside Britain, so the question "What is Marmite?" appears quite often.

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15. Are there any heavy metals in Marmite?

Well, that depends on whom you ask. According to the WebElements Periodic Table, yes. They say:

"Marmite, which we all eat here in England and which is what makes us English, is a source of vitamin B12, actually a compound containing cobalt. The equivalent, but altogether blander, in Australia is Vegemite. Marmite is available in the USA. Try mixing it with peanut butter.
    "Cobalt is a brittle, hard, transition metal with magnetic properties similar to those of iron. Cobalt is present in meteorites. Ore deposits are found in Zaire, Morocco and Canada. Cobalt-60 (60Co) is an artificially produced isotope used as a source of g rays (high energy radiation). Cobalt salts colour glass a beautiful deep blue colour."

However, one reader of this FAQ, Ann Woodriff, who has some impressive expertise on the question being asked, has written us to say this:

Really, that gives a false picture. "Heavy metals", whilst being a commonly bandied term in food etc., are rock bands and nothing more. There is no single, accurate or meaningful chemical definition of a "heavy metal" and therefore the answer is incorrect as Marmite doesn't contain any rock bands. I appreciate you are overwhelmed with stuff to read and therefore may never get around to reading [this] article (yes I wrote it) but the summing up of it is this:

Summary
Given that there is such a level of disparity and confusion about the term "heavy metals," should it continue to be used in common parlance to denote a collection of toxic substances? Considering that the term is used in legislation without a precise definition, what implications does this have for the future? Should there not be a concerted effort to define the term precisely or create a new form of categorisation in order to tighten up legislation and health warnings?
    In my mind, the main points of concern are that:

  1. Not all "heavy metals" are metals (e.g. arsenic, selenium, tellurium)
  2. Not all "heavy metals" are heavy in the conventional sense (e.g. aluminium)
  3. No account is taken of whether the substance in question is in elemental or compound form
  4. Little account is taken for dosage of the substance

    As we already have the term GRAS - Generally Regarded As Safe; perhaps we could consider the term GRAT - Generally Regarded As Toxic instead. However one looks at it, to maintain scientific credibility, the term "heavy metals" should be allowed to sink without trace and be replaced with a term that is consistently and precisely defined.
    And it is that 3rd bullet point that really highlights my concern about what you have written in response to Q15—yes, vitamin B12 contains cobalt at the centre of its cobalamin structure but it is not in any way going to be harmful, in the context in which one normally considers "heavy metals" (or toxic minerals, as I prefer to call them) and therefore you have given a false impression, not only for Marmite but also for the extremely important vitamin B12.
We report; you decide.

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16. Are there other Marmite-flavored food products?

There certainly are. For a real taste treat, try Walker's Crisps (that's Brit-speak for potato chips) with Marmite flavoring.
One of the best-looking food ideas we have seen in a long time brings together two of Phil Johnson's favorite flavors: Marmite and cashews.
    We've also been dying to try Marmite Mania, a gooey cheese and marmite spread. We think it would be perfect on rye toast.
    And then there's the old standby, Twiglets, which resemble small tree branches coated with Marmite flavor.

A reader sends news about Marmite-flavored chocolate. Turns out it's as bad an idea as it sounds:

I am an unconditional fan of all things marmite, that is until last Christmas my sister-in-law sent me some marmite flavoured chocolate.

IT WAS DISGUSTING!!!

It was called "Very Peculiar".

Bring back worcester sauce twiglets, and let's have pre-packeted marmite soldiers with real dried egg to heat in the micro

BUT NOT MARMITE CHOCOLATE

Here's a link in case you think I'm joking,

http://www.chocablog.com/reviews/marmite-very-peculiar-milk-chocolate/

thanks

Peter

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17. Can you point me to other Marmite-flavored Web sites?

Yes. Here are some of our favorites:

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Search for more on Marmite:

In case this isn't really everything you would like to know, you might try a search at our favorite search engine:

Google

THE END.

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Addendum

The following e-mail comes to us from Howard Stock:

Sorry to be a pedant, but Jerry Hall actually advertised Bovril, not Marmite. Likewise, the joke at Comic Relief referred to the beefy brown stuff.
    Marmite's recent adverts have been most amusing, featuring the slogan "I hate Marmite" and focusing on its phobes rather than its philes, attesting to the unique relationship British folk have with Marmite.
    By wiping Marmite on twigs, Mr Bean was attempting to recreat an uniquely British snack food known as Twiglets. Made of the same basic material as Ryvita, Twiglets are twig-shaped, hence the name, and streaked with a very Marmite-like substance, although I don't think it's the real thing.
    Marmite goes very well with both peanut butter and marmalade. Throw some cheese on either one, and your tastebuds will never be the same.
    Like old honey, dryish Marmite can be reconstituted by submerging it in simmering water for a bit.

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Note

The original material for this document was compiled by Dave Chapman from long threads on Usenet during November 1994.
    Thanks to Dave and all the people who contributed to those threads for providing much of the information contained in this FAQ (especially James Kew for providing a lot of the original information and giving Dave personal feedback and corrections.)

    The original Marmite FAQ seems to have been abandoned in mid-1995 or so. This version has been maintained by Phil Johnson since 1996. For completely selfish reasons, Phil has opted for American, rather than British, spellings. If you have information or anecdotes to be added to this FAQ, information on how to contact Phil is below.