With the slogan “love it or hate it,” Marmite is definitely not for everyone. However, it is undeniably a popular food spread in the United Kingdom. Invented by German scientist Justus von Liebig in 1902, Marmite is characteristically a sticky, dark brown paste made from yeast extract. Currently produced by Unilever, Marmite is highly similar to other products made from yeast extract such as Vegemite in Australia and Cenovis in Switzerland.
The entire range of Marmite is supposedly vegan since the products are primarily made of yeast extract and other vegan ingredients. Additionally, most of the Marmite products are certified by the European Vegetarian Union to be vegan (except for the 70 g jar which is only currently vegetarian). Marmite is a perfectly acceptable food product for vegans, and it also serves as an excellent source of vegan B vitamins.
First developed in 1902 by the Marmite Food Company, Marmite is a savory spread that is particularly popular in the UK. The scientist cited for the development of Marmite, Justus von Liebig, produced Marmite by investigating ways to use leftover yeast from breweries.
Although it is commonly known that the taste of Marmite can be divisive, the yeast extract spread is undeniably nutritious – especially in terms of B vitamins. British troops even received Marmite as part of their rations during World War I. There are also other cases where Marmite has been successfully used to treat anemia (due to its folic acid content) and malnutrition.
Marmite is often used as a spread and is commonly used on toast, crackers, and bagels. However, the yeast extract spread can also be added as an ingredient in many other dishes. The Marmite website even has a page dedicated to recipes that include Marmite (1) such as Marmite and peanut butter American pancakes with caramelized apples, cheese and Marmite muffins, Marmite breakfast popovers, and many more.
Most people who are familiar with Marmite have an idea that the product is made from yeast extract since it is effectively labeled in the product. The factories that make Marmite obtain yeasts from breweries. Breweries use yeast to produce ethanol for their beers. However, the yeasts are then removed as the beer is further produced – this causes breweries to have an excess of yeast waste. Fortunately, the yeast byproduct can still be utilized for the production of Marmite.
Once the yeast arrives at the Marmite factories, the yeast is placed in large vats that are heated to 95°C. The high temperature effectively kills the live yeast and breaks down their cell walls. Once the cell walls of the yeast are broken down, the internal contents of the yeast cells are released into the solution.
The solution is then put in a centrifuge to separate the broken-down parts of the cell wall and the internal components of the yeast cells. Since the cell wall components are much heavier, these would form at the bottom after centrifugation while the internal components, or the yeast extract, can be separated from the top.
The crude yeast extract is then heated once more, this time to a much greater temperature. This allows water to boil off into steam, leaving a more concentrated yeast extract. At this point, the yeast extract would already have a consistency that is similar to Marmite. However, additional ingredients are added for flavor. According to the label, the other ingredients added to the yeast extract include barley, salt, vegetable juice concentrate, and celery.
Once all the ingredients are properly added, the product is then bottled up, quality-assessed, and prepared for shipping.
Since the ingredients and the production process of Marmite do not contain any animal product or derivative, Marmite should be perfectly acceptable for vegans. As stated in the packaging, Marmite is primarily made of concentrated yeast extract with the addition of certain herbs and spices for flavor.
Additionally, Marmite is certifiably vegan. The FAQ on the Marmite website (2) specifically states:
“The entire Marmite range is vegan, and certified by the European Vegetarian Union (EVU), except for the 70g jar. The 70g jar is currently only vegetarian – though we are in the process of moving towards vegan approval from the EVU.”
Thus, aside from the 70 g jar of Marmite, all the other products under the Marmite range are certified to be vegan.
Aside from being allowed in vegan diets, Marmite is actually touted to be an excellent source of B vitamins. Specifically, Marmite has been known to be a good source of vitamin B1 (thiamin), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B9 (folic acid), and vitamin B12.
Some B vitamins, especially vitamins B12 and B2, are considered to be highly important for vegan diets. This is because these B vitamins are typically obtained by most people through food items that are prohibited for vegan diets such as meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.
Although vitamins are considered micronutrients which means that the human body requires them in trace quantities, deficiencies in these B vitamins can lead to highly adverse health effects due to the functional roles these vitamins serve.
For example, since vitamin B12 is highly involved in the central nervous system, a deficiency in vitamin B12 can lead to a wide range of neurological symptoms such as fatigue, lethargy, depression, and poor memory (3). Vitamin B12 is also a precursor to DNA synthesis which is why a deficiency in this vitamin can also lead to the impairment in red blood cell production.
On the other hand, vitamin B2 is particularly instrumental in the development of two very important enzymes: flavin mononucleotide (FMN) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD). Deficiency in vitamin B2 can also lead to a wide range of adverse health effects such as sore throat, hyperemia (excess blood buildup), edema of oral and mucous membranes, cheilosis (the inflammation of the corners of the mouth), and glossitis (the inflammation of the tongue), which further leads to loss of hair, inflammation of the skin, cataract development, migraine prophylaxis, and decrease in hemoglobin status (4).
As important vitamins for the human body, it is beneficial for vegans to have access to vegan sources of such vitamins such as vitamins B12 and B2 in Marmite. According to the FAQ on the Marmite website, one serving of Marmite (8 g) contains an equivalent of 1.9 µg of vitamin B12 (2). That amount in a single serving already constitutes 76% of an adult’s daily reference intake.
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