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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Only the British Could Love Marmite

BURTON-ON-TRENT, England -- Ceremonial Britain marks 2002 as the jubilee of the 50 years since Queen Elizabeth II began her reign, but everyday Britain is commemorating the centennial of the country's coming under the rule of an even stranger British institution: Marmite. Marmite is a brownish vegetable extract with a toxic odor, saline taste and an axle-grease consistency that has somehow captivated the British.

They slather it on buttered toast, put it in gravies, mix it with cheddar cheese and beans and boil it into catarrh-chasing broths. They buy it at a 24 million-jar-per-year clip that has enshrined it as a national symbol right up there with the royal family and the Sunday roast.

That no foreigner has ever been known to like it simply adds to its domestic allure and its iconic status as an emblem of enduring British insularity and bloody-mindedness. Were Hogarth to paint a still life in a 21st-century British pantry, a jar of Marmite would have to figure in it.

Marmite is exported to 30 countries, but all of it is aimed at expatriates, and there are no plans to try to acquaint the non-British world with its delights. "Our research shows that if you haven't been exposed to it by the time you're three, it's unlikely you'll like it," said Mark Wearing, the Marmite plant manager in this Midlands brewery town where the product was first created 100 years ago in an abandoned malt house using spent yeast from the nearby Bass Pale Ale factory.

Marmite is genuinely good for you. Though the recipe itself is a secret, the ingredients include yeast and vegetable extracts, salt, niacin, spices, folic acid and vitamins B1, B2 and B12. It is used to wean infants, and it has been sent to troops in the Persian Gulf and Kosovo and dispatched with polar explorers because of its abundance of B vitamins and its capacity to ward off deficiency diseases like beriberi that once afflicted British troops and travelers.

Utilitarian it may be, but there are problems. Kiss someone who has just eaten Marmite, and you'll think you were licking paint.

Most Britons ate their first Marmite dressed in pajamas, cutting their freshly spread toast into strips called soldiers to be dipped into soft boiled eggs. The most common theory of its siren-song appeal is that a mouthful decades into adulthood provides a headlong rush back to the comforts of the nursery.

Hayley Feureisen, the Welsh-born manager of Myers of Keswick, a grocery in Lower Mannattan that caters to expatriate Britons, said that Marmite was the product that her customers requested most. As for Americans, she said, "they think it tastes like a cross between cheese and shoe polish."

Being British, the company has had an appreciation of the ironic possibilities of the public's divided loyalties between those who find Marmite revolting and those who think it sublime.

One television ad showed a woman excusing herself from a sofa clutch with her boyfriend and running into the kitchen to have a quick bite of Marmite. She returns, they kiss, and the final scene shows the woman alone while the man is heard throwing up in the toilet.