Monday, October 6, 2008

Practising Patriotism: Marmite vs. Vegemite Blind Tasting

The time for talking was through. An ongoing argument had to be settled. Travelling through Mexico, Guatemala and Belize with an Australian boy and two other British girls for over a month, conversation inevitably turned to the merits of Marmite vs. Vegemite. The debate got rather heated. This was no ‘love it or hate it’ argument, this was strictly love marmite, love vegemite.

I’ve never really thought of myself as particularly patriotic, and yet for some reason when people I barely know insult British food – particularly when they have absolutely no experience of it whatsoever – I’ve been known to get quite vocal (or rather, more vocal). When my Ecuadorian family on my gap year tried to tell me that ‘all your food comes from tins’ (er, wot?), or when some Japanese I met with decried British food as appalling – each time I set about firmly proving to them that whilst yes, if you just stop anywhere in the UK you won’t necessarily be treated to gourmet fare, not all British food is repulsive. My mother for one cooks glorious British dishes (roasts, pies and puddings, stews, not to mention the soups), there are hundreds of stellar gastropubs around and about, if you know where to find them, and things have been looking up since the war-time rationing of spam and powdered egg.

So the Marmite vs. Vegemite debate was yet another juicy argument I could sink my teeth into. Back safe and sound in our glorious homeland, and almost a month after saying our goodbyes, the three English lasses gathered at my home in Surrey, where we carried out a rigorous and, surprisingly even to us, entirely unbiased taste test. The results were quite, quite fascinating.

Ellie and Lauren were up first – with each donning a blindfold and being handed a random piece of toast with one or other of either Marmite or Vegemite spread. Lauren’s responses were swift and unequivocal – marmite was tangy and satisfying, vegemite was strangely stale, with and overwhelming yeast taste. There was not a moment of hesitation. Ellie, going second, nearly let the side down, umming and ahhing for a while. This, however, was before she tasted the second toast (Vegemite), whereupon she firmly laid down her – marmite was salty and satisfying, vegemite tasted like it had gone off. The results were duly recorded.

The moment of truth – my tasting – was filmed for prosterity. I have to say, the film has had me in fits of giggles since. It is 100% straight-down-the-line tasting. No cheating. Blindfolded, I readied myself for the onslaught of tastes, genuinely unsure what to expect. At the first taste of salty flavoured toast, I was momentarily floored, riddled with self-doubt. Until the aftertaste hit me...and I realised that this wasn’t the good old marmite I’d grown up with and loved. It was an imposter. The aftertaste was cloying, musty and clogged the tastebuds. Lauren and Ellie were right, it tasted slightly off. Ugh. I cleansed my palette with a handy glass of water, ready for the genuine article. The marmite-laden toast was sumptuous and, mixed with the rich, creamy butter, was delicious salty succulence on my tongue. I was taken straight back to my eight year old self being fed an afternoon snack of buttery soldiers glistening with this odd, black gooey concoction.

The Marmite website perfectly describes my feelings for this innocuous-looking, yet intensely flavoured spread: 'Eat Marmite? You don't just want to eat it, you want to bathe in it, wallow in it like a hippo in mud, slather yourself from head to toe and wrap yourself in bread and butter... And you know what? That's fine. Just fine. Completely normal in fact...' Thank goodness. At last some actual written proof that I am normal.

There is no doubt about it, Marmite and Vegemite may come from a similar source (the yeasty residue that comes from the beer-making process), and they may each be as odd a concept as the other, but for this British girl there is no doubting the superior: my mate, Marmite.

No comments: