"It's like Marmite, you either love it or hate it."
The divisive nature of the yeast extract spread is so ubiquitous, it's earned its own catchphrase. For every person who slathers Marmite on toast, mixes it into pasta, and takes a jar on holiday, there's someone who'll wrinkle their nose at the mere thought of the brown stuff.
You may not have thought too hard about why some people eat Marmite by the spoonful and others can't stand it, but a group of hard-working scientists grappling with the big questions in life claim to have worked it out. According to new research from genetics experts DNAFit, Marmite preference is all down to your genes.
In a clinical trial of 260 UK adults, researchers found that certain genetic markers are linked with a taste for Marmite. In order to identify which genes played a part in this preference, participants were first asked to put a two gram serving of the spread on their tongue for ten seconds and fill out a questionnaire about their reaction to the taste. Scientists then took a saliva cheek swab from each person and analysed the DNA samples for SNPs (a.k.a. single nucleotide polymorphisms a.k.a. the DNA building blocks that determine genetic variation) associated with Marmite preference.
The results identified 15 SNPs that are linked to liking Marmite. Thomas Roos, the principal investigator of the research said in a press release that the outcome proved that preference for the spread lies primarily in our genes. He explained: "Our research indicates that Marmite taste preference can in large parts be attributed to our genetic blueprint, which shows that each of us is born with a tendency to be either a 'lover' or a 'hater.'"
It's worth noting, though, that DNAFit's research was carried out on behalf of Marmite. We reached out to Dr. Gillian Harris, senior lecturer in eating behaviour at the University of Birmingham, to find out more about the role DNA plays in determining whether you love or hate the spread.
She told us: "The reaction to the taste of Marmite would at best be similar to the genetically determined response to bitter tastes. You can be a bitter supertaster: bitter tastes will always be disgusting and you will never be able to learn to like extremely bitter foods. [Or] a bitter mid-taster: you will be able to accept some bitter tastes if you are exposed to them early enough, before the age of one year. [Or] a bitter non-taster: you hardly notice bitter tastes in food and will always easily accept them."
Basically, nurture could trump nature if you're exposed to Marmite early enough. But for some, there's no hope of ever becoming a yeast extract lover.
Harris warned: "An early introduction to the taste of Marmite would enable a learned preference in some infants who respond moderately and in all infants who hardly notice the back taste. But I think that there will always be others who will not be able to accept the taste even if you bathe them in Marmite from birth."
Just don't be that guy who sits on the fence.