Kiwi Culture 101: Marmite


There is a meme I’ve recently seen on Facebook:


It says Vegemite, but the exact same rules apply to Kiwi Marmite. It’s an acquired taste—like American root beer—and you either love it or you hate it. From what I’ve heard, most Americans like it about as much as I like root beer—they think it’s horrible and can’t understand how anyone could possibly consume the awful stuff.

As you can see, it’s a black paste, with a strong yeasty taste. New Zealand Marmite is produced by Sanitaruim, the food company established by members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. They are vegetarians, and Marmite is packed full of Vitamin B and other essentials often missing from a vegetarian diet.

Marmite isn’t unique to New Zealand. There is an English equivalent, although it quite literally pales in comparison to the New Zealand product (they, of course, claim theirs was first and is therefore better. We beg to disagree). Ours is darker and stronger. Especially when you layer it on.

New Zealand Marmite has had a rocky history, literally. The sole factory is located in Christchurch, the site of the deadly earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. The earthquakes rocked the factory off its foundations, and New Zealand came to a standstill with the news that the factory would have to close.

Yes, a new factory would be built, but we were told the production process takes several months. As a nation, we were faced with the ultimate first-world problem.

No Marmite. For at least a year.


What followed seems almost farcical in hindsight. Within hours of the factory closure being announced, Marmite had disappeared from shop shelves as addicts bought up all remaining jars to stockpile. There were rumours of fights. My brother-in-law spent an evening visiting every small shop in the vicinity to try and buy a year’s supply for his daughters. My sister-in-law rejoiced that she had two unopened jars. They could make it, as long as they saved it for their son and didn’t spread it too thickly.

As happens with any scarce resource, a secondary market appeared. TradeMe, the New Zealand equivalent of eBay, saw a rise in searches for Marmite as those who had won the stockpiling war began offering their excess jars for sale. One 500g jar, unopened. Starting bid: four times the normal retail price. And people bought … but it didn’t last long before all the jars were safely in the pantries of people who had no intention of sharing, let alone selling.

Others of us did the unthinkable:

We switched from Kiwi Marmite to Australian Vegemite (may we be forgiven). To understand the magnitude of this betrayal: inter-Tasman rivalry between the brands makes the Coke vs. Pepsi arguments look like a pebble next to the Rock of Gibraltar. Marmite and Vegemite are matters of national pride. Under no circumstances should you try to pass one off as the other, or offer someone the “wrong” spread.

Marmite v Vegemite

Eventually, the dark age ended and the good news was proclaimed.

Marmite was back in production, and was available in limited quantities. In order to allow as many people as possible to experience the resurrection for themselves, it would only be sold in small 250g jars.

Supermarkets would announced the times at which they would be refilling the Marmite shelf, and customers would politely hover while the shelf was filled … and then promptly empty it. Sales were rationed: no more than two jars at once.

Over time, the factory built up to normal capacity, demand fell back to normal levels, and Marmite was available on our supermarket shelves again, in the normal range of sizes. The great Marmite Scare of 2013 was over.

But not forgotten.

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