In France, there’s escargot.

In New Orleans, there’s gumbo.

And in New Zealand, there’s Marmite.

For almost one hundred years, this dark sticky and salty paste, a byproduct of brewer’s yeast, has taken pride of place in kitchen cupboards and dining room tables throughout the country.

Mostly spread thinly on toast, it is considered an essential component of the Kiwi breakfast.

But that was BQ – before the quakes. Since then, a large percentage of buildings around Christchurch, including New Zealand’s only Marmite-making plant, were deemed unsafe and either demolished or shut down for repairs.

As a result, in the earthquakes aftermath, fueled by a media predicting Marmegeddon, the ‘great New Zealand Marmite famine’ was born.

Marmite became ‘black gold’ as stocks in supermarkets throughout the country dwindled.  Online auction sites featured a frenzy of Marmite related activity (including the auctioning of half-full containers), there was talk of Marmite rationing, and even the Prime Minister admitted he had an emergency Marmite supply.

The Rebuild Christchurch Foundation got into the act, raising funds by auctioning photographs of empty Marmite jars donated by New Zealand celebrities.

Sanitarium, the company the makes Marmite, attempted to placate Kiwis by reproducing the locally made Marmite in a plant in South Africa. They sent over local staff armed with Marmite’s secret herbs and spices.

But when the finished jars of Marmite were taste tested by diehard Kiwi Marmite lovers, Sanitarium found out that it was all just an expensive exercise.

The freshly made Marmite didn’t taste, smell, or even look the same.  Turns out that the key ingredient, the one that makes kiwi Marmite kiwi was the particular yeast procured only in Christchurch.

The nearly but not quite Marmite imposter, created in good faith, would just not do.

Marmite lovers around New Zealand would just have to tough it out. And travelers to New Zealand will just have to miss out on this unique taste of New Zealand.

Not for much longer though.

This month Sanitarium announced that Marmite would return to the supermarket shelves on the 20th of March.

(image by ohsarahrose via flickr)

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Liz Lewis is a New Zealand based writer who favors wine tasting and food markets over bungy jumping and mountain climbing.