Marmite's European and religious roots revealed

Sanitarium's legal threats over a shipment of imported Marmite ignore the product's English roots.

Christchurch importer Rob Savage tried to beat the country's Marmite drought by importing a 2000-jar shipment of the British-made yeast spread, under the name Ma'amite.

Now Seventh-day Adventist-owned Sanitarium is threatening to take legal action to destroy the shipment as its earthquake-damaged Christchurch factory is brought back online.

This would be ironic because, as Sanitarium's website notes, the first Marmite to be sold in New Zealand was imported from England.

The discovery of a yeasty byproduct of beer brewing could be made into food is credited to 19th-century German chemist Baron Justus von Liebig.

But it was the English who first manufactured Marmite, in 1902.

Securing the secret recipe

The name Marmite comes from the French word for earthernware pots – the original vessel in which Marmite was delivered. If you're being correct with your French, it is pronounced "mar-MEET".

Marmite's popularity was boosted in 1912 with the discovery it was a good source of vitamin B. In the 1930s, the New Zealand flavour was altered and sugar was added.

Wikipedia says Sanitarium has manufactured Marmite in New Zealand since 1919.

Sanitarium's website says it was only shortly before World War II that it "secured the secret recipe from the English" and made the first Marmite Down Under at its factory in Cooranbong, near Newcastle, in the Australian state of New South Wales, in 1944. 

The website says the yeast spread has been produced in Christchurch since the mid-1940s.

Since the 1970s, the factory has supplied the whole South Pacific and it is this factory that shut in November 2011, after being damaged by Christchurch's series of brutal earthquakes.

The latest Marmite shortage, dubbed "Marmageddon", is not the first. Sanitarium's Christchurch factory was gutted by fire in 1966

The UK company making Marmite is now owned by global giant Unilever.

Religious roots

The ill-fated Marmite factory occupies the former site of Christchurch Medical and Surgical Sanitarium, a health centre opened in Papanui by Seventh-day Adventists in July 1900.

Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing Company is the trading name for company New Zealand Health Association, which is wholly-owned by the Seventh-day Adventist charitable trust The New Zealand Conference Association, based in Royal Oak, Auckland.

Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand records show the Marmite trademark was first registered in August 1920.

The trademark's owner is Sydney-based Australasian Conference Association, the trustee for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific region.

The religious organisation has copped criticism for not paying tax because of its charitable status. 

In 2011, the Seventh-day Adventist's South Pacific arm, including Sanitarium, reportedly made $86.1 million.

New Zealand's government-run encyclopaedia, Te Ara, says Seventh-day Adventists preach that Jesus will soon return to earth and many practitioners are committed vegetarians, prohibitionists and feminists.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has about 13 million members worldwide.

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