Marmite? Hummus? Am I hearin’ you right?

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If, to paraphrase the great Lenny Bruce, hummus is Jewish, then Marmite is definitely goyish. But what do you do when the two are combined into, wait for it, Marmite hummus? It sounds like an abomination, two ingredients that should never meet, like shatnez or mixing milk and meat.

Really, we shouldn’t be surprised by this hybrid given that they’ve added Marmite to Mini Cheddar Bites, crisps, rice cakes, nuts, chocolate, peanut butter and even deodorant!  

This does not include what has been done to hummus in the name of cuisine, adding in all sorts of things to it that don’t belong (sundried tomatoes or pesto, anyone?). 

My first reaction was that of the Peter Kay gag about garlic bread: ‘Garlic bread? Garlic. Bread? GARLIC? BREAD? Am I hearin’ you right? Garlic bread?’  

‘Gag’ is the operative term here, as the responses, on my social media at least, attest: ‘pass’, ‘foul’, ‘wrongness incarnate’, ‘all sorts of wrong’ and ‘frightening’. 

The most accurate observation was this one: ‘Unilever’s Marmite resolves to “merits evil manure”’.

What really takes the biscuit is that it is being sold in Tesco’s, a supermarket with Jewish origins no less.

OK, so we can’t actually claim hummus as our own, although the Zohan and Bruno both make very good attempts at doing so. 

Marmite, even if it is currently kosher, surely sums up non-Jewishness in Britain. As Adam Gabbatt pointed out The Guardian, ‘Marmite, like the Queen, the stiffer upper lip, and getting really drunk, is something that is seen as uniquely British.’ it is one of the top food items that homesick Brits take abroad with them.

Marmite’s goyishness becomes even more apparent when you look up its origins. Like the Queen, they lie in Germany, invented by a chemist as a byproduct of the beer brewing process, and what is more goyish than that? 

It also explains why Florence Greenberg once made a Yorkshire pudding with Marmite, probably because she thought this was the height of goyish cuisine.

But maybe there is some underlying Jewishness to Marmite after all one belied by that dark surface?

First, it certainly is an acquired taste — like most of Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine.  

Second, as the BBC points out, Marmite was popular among civilians and soldiers between 1939 and 1945 and thus helped to win the Second World War.  

Third, it has come to enter the English language to stand for someone or something divisive that you either love or you hate.  

In fact, ‘Love it or hate it’ has become its advertising slogan. It has become so well recognised that a certain type of person might even be described as being ‘like Marmite’.  

What better description for the Jews than that? Who is parev about the Jews? Some say that non-Jews are either antisemites or philosemites (where the former is one who hates Jews more than is strictly necessary while the latter is an antisemite who just happens to love Jews).

Maybe this is why its distinctive package design prominently features red and yellow on the label and a yellow lid, colours that have been used to stigmatise Jews over the centuries.

Perhaps, then, Marmite Houmus isn’t the abomination that it first appears to be. (On that note, is it houmous, hoummous, hummus, or houmus?)

Even if the two things don’t belong together and it turns out to be the abhorrence it initially seems, as one person quipped on my Facebook page, ‘The Jewish people are strong and can endure anything.’

We have survived worse things than Marmite Hoummus.


I teach film studies at Bangor University in north Wales where I live. I research, write and broadcast regularly (in Welsh and English) on transatlantic Jewish culture and history.
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Karen E. H. Skinazi
3 years ago

Perhaps this is the liminal food that will act as my first step toward trying Marmite…

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