Britain is at a crossroads with its identity. After the Second World War, immigration changed the country drastically, and many struggled to update their view of a “Brit” to anything other than “a white person eating shepherd's pie and burning in 17 degree sun.” Decades later and with further changes from globalisation, this crisis of national identity only intensified. In 2016, the Brexit vote became a way to return to that dated “British” identity—one hinged on this jingoistic idea that we’re still an oppressive, colonial power, expanding across the globe, forcing people to eat scones and plying them with celebratory monarchy mugs. With a vote to take us out of the EU, the people of this stupid island made it clear: we have no sense of national identity.
Meanwhile, strange things are happening in the condiment world. This April, Unilever launch a new product, one that combines yeast extract and peanut butter in the form of, er, a crunchy peanut butter with Marmite. The spread, which is already available online, has the look and consistency of creamy peanut butter and the strong, umami-flavour of Marmite. It is, unintentionally, the most appropriate spread for a moment of national anxiety like the one facing Britain today.
Of course, the concept of mashing two decent things together to make something potentially horrible is nothing new—arguably existing since 1970s cooks got a bit too excited by the sudden influx of new, imported ingredients, or even since Heston Blumenthal mashed ice cream and bacon together in the early 00s. However, the genre has really come into its own in the wake of Instagram and viral Frankenfoods, like the Cronut, Dorito tacos, and candy floss ice cream burritos (?).
While capitalism’s desire to sell more snacks, more food, more stuff to us tends to result in weird food collaborations, the peanut butter Marmite spread is a unique iteration of its times. Something that makes us question everything we know, and a product to represent the confusing place we find ourselves in as a nation. I mean, what the fuck are we doing right now? Leaving the EU? Mashing peanuts with yeast? We’re losing our shit.
You just have to try the bloody thing to understand that it is the food embodiment of confusion. On first taste, your mouth registers the peanut crunch and a silky, buttery texture. In the next moment, you’re overwhelmed, confused, uprooted with a deep, rich, yeast flavour—like a salty smack in the face. It’s quite good, if blue cheese or anchovies are your thing. It’s also strange, questionable, and immediately dislikable.
I mean, what the fuck are we doing right now? Leaving the EU? Mashing peanuts with yeast? We’re losing our shit.
The thing with this spread is, it is clearly the brainchild of a nation that has honestly forgotten what is right. Marmite is a fundamental signifier of British identity. I have offered Marmite to various tastebuds across the globe, and almost everyone, unilaterally, finds it disgusting, except the Brits (or Aussies). It is, in many ways, wrong: salty, pungent, strong, and something we’ve only been indoctrinated to like as a way to make us consume more B12. To fuck with this already controversial spread is an indication that our collective identity is deeply, deeply troubled. The fact that a marketing manager, somewhere, thought Marmite and peanut butter could work and sell to the bread-and-crumpet-loving British public, means that, clearly, we’ve all lost our minds.
That is not to say that eventually, this could mark a new wave of British spread—one that combines the filling and tasty joy of peanut butter, with the shocking saltiness of Marmite. Just as the debate around modern British identity must be resolved (although preferably not with us screwing over the poor via leaving the EU), perhaps Marmite peanut butter must enter into Brexit Britain’s public consciousness.
This may not be the spread we want. But it’s the spread we deserve.