Saturday, September 17, 2005

Bovril vs Marmite

bovrilA week or so ago, soon after arriving in Outer Mongolia (aka rural Surrey), I had an urge for Bovril on toast.

I love eating Bovril lightly smeared on toast that has cooled enough for the butter not to sink in. The Bovril mixes in with the butter to make lovely swirly patterns of pale yellow, black and brown. To me, it's delicious and a great comfort food. My daughter has inherited the same love for it and insists on eating it just the way I do.

Next time L went off to the shops, I asked her to get me some - I've been eating it daily ever since.

Bovril and Marmite are as quintessentially South African as they are British. Yes, they may originate from the UK but they've been sold in South Africa for almost as long as they have in the UK. Kids grow up knowing that part of growing up means having black gunge spread on their sandwiches and toast. Some families stock both products but there are many who favour one over the other - they pick their side of the Bovril-Marmite divide, stick to it and will defend it very passionately.

My mother stocked both but I was never keen on Marmite. They looked the same and their bottles were very similar even if the Bovril logo was mostly red and the Marmite one mostly yellow. Apart from the taste, the big differentiating factor was that Bovril was made from beef, Marmite from a yeast extract.

So, you can imagine my dismay to hear, late last year, that Bovril had decided to dispense with the beef and become yet another product based on a yeast extract. Reasons cited for this change were drops in sales sparked off by mad cow disease and export restrictions overseas. These restrictions were based on those mad cows and restrictions introduced by Malaysia, one of the biggest Bovril markets, on non-halal meat products. It seems that the Malaysians are very keen on stirring Bovril into their porridge and coffee.

Now, I can understand the commercial imperative to change something to keep up sales but why tamper with a tried-and-tested formula that has lasted over a hundred years? Sure, make a non-beef variety but continue with the original formula. And, if needs be, even call the new upstart Bovril and rename the old one something else.

This is what the Unilever Bestfoods (makers of Bovril AND Marmite, as it happens) website has to say about Bovril:

bovril advertIt might not have been on our TV screens for a while, but Bovril hot drinks are still seen on dining tables across the land. And of course, it continues to warm countless fans in football stadiums up and down the country. After more than a century, the Bovril brand is still going strong, making it one of Unilever's oldest brands.

How it all started

  • Bovril is a British classic. But in a roundabout way, we owe it to the French. In the 1870-71 war against the Germans, Napoleon realised armies could not 'march on empty stomachs', so his officials ordered a million cans of beef. The contract went to a Scot by the name of John Lawson Johnston. The only trouble was, Britain didn't have enough beef to meet French demand.
  • Undeterred, Johnston went to Canada to develop his new product (then known as Johnston's Fluid Beef). When he returned to London in 1884, he set up a small factory in Old Street, Shoreditch. By 1888 there were over 3000 pubs, grocers (and even chemists) serving Bovril. In 1889, the Bovril Company was formed - in 1901 Bovril was trading as far as South Africa and South America.
  • 1966 saw the launch of Bovril instant beef stock, followed by the 'King Beef' range of instant flavours for stews, casseroles and gravy in 1971.
  • In 1990 Bovril first began to sponsor charitable fireworks displays on Bonfire Night, providing free samples of Bovril for visitors.
  • By 1994 enough Bovril was sold to make over 90 million mugs of hot drink - that's enough for every person attending a football League Match to have one at the beginning, one at half-time, one at the end and another cup when they got home.
  • Unilever acquired Bovril in 2000. Recognising that not all people eat meat, we created a vegetarian recipe.

    They wax on and on about Bovril's illustrious pedigree. The sort of pedigree that has inspired Bovril fanatics all over the world. Inspired them to set up fan sites like The Bovril Shrine. Ok, that is a bit geekish and trainspotter-ish even for someone like me who loves the stuff. But, you get the point. Then, at the end, they terminate their eulogy with that damp squibb about why they created a vegetarian recipe. How do they expect to get away with it?

    bovril advert especially for vegetarians
    Ok, we all know that animal rights campaigners are a very vocal lobby and some of them are downright dangerous. But, the last time I checked, vegetarianism is definitely not something that has the beef industry running scared - they have other worries, largely self-induced, but good old-fashioned bloody meat continues to be eaten in large quantities.

    Unilever say that extensive taste tests were conducted before they introduced the new formula - 50% of people preferred the taste of the meat-free version, with 10% being unable to tell the difference. That means that 40% can tell the difference. More importantly, I can tell the difference!

    Are we going to have another taste and marketing debacle like the stupidity embarked upon by Coca Cola many years ago? I suspect not. Bovril still tastes better than Marmite but Marmite seems to have 'won the war'.

    Blogger LiVEwiRe said...

    I've actually had to google these; I live a sheltered life apparently. That plus I don't think we really consume these products in the states. Even if we did, I'd be out of the loop - I'm kind of a food-wuss. I found a pic of Marmite and it is, indeed, black. How odd for food. I feel educated now and very pleased that I had eggplant for dinner. =)

    10:21 pm  
    Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

    So you call them eggplant too? I don't think that word is used much in the UK where the term is almost always aubergine. In South Africa, eggplant and brinjal are mostly used but aubergine is becoming more popular.

    I suspect you aren't about to rush out and buy yourself some Marmite or Bovril in the next day or two?

    10:29 pm  
    Blogger Gordon said...

    Bovril and Marmite are disgusting. Whether beef or yeast the idea of eating either makes me gag.

    Saying that, what a great post! Learned so many new things that are completely and utterly useless. I love the internet! ;-)

    11:40 am  
    Blogger LiVEwiRe said...

    Uh, no... not rushing out to buy either. But I find the term 'aubergine' interesting for eggplant. Would that be a simple reference to the color? Looks like I'll have to globe trot so I can catch up on all these sorts of things! =)

    4:55 pm  
    Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

    A bit of research for you comes up with:

    Aubergine is the (English) English name given to this fruit, and is often invoked to describe other objects with a dark plum colour. This name comes from the French aubergine, derived from Catalan albergínia, from Arabic al-bAdhinjAn, from Persian بادنجان Bâdinjân, the aubergine.

    The word melongena is from the Sanskrit vatinganah, which has produced a number of names for this plant in various languages: brinjal, badingan, melongena, melenzana, berenjena, albergínia, aubergine, brown-jolly, and mad-apple (misinterpretation of Italian melanzana as mela insana).

    And, from an etymological source:

    1794, from Fr., "fruit of the eggplant" (Solanum esculentum), dim. of auberge "a kind of peach," from Sp. alberchigo "apricot." But Klein derives the Fr. from Catalan alberginera, from Arabic al-badinjan "the eggplant," from Pers. badin-gan, from Skt. vatin-ganah. As a color like that of the eggplant fruit, it is attested from 1895.

    Seems like the colour is derived from the vegetable and not the other way round.

    As you say, the internet is wonderful!

    5:07 pm  
    Anonymous daphne said...

    Hi! Nice blog!

    BTW, I am Malaysian, and a Bovril fan. WOuld like to clarify something: we don't actually mix Bovril into our coffee. Into rice porridge and on toast, and we use it in stir fries and stews, and we drink it in a mug, but not in coffee!


    3:33 am  
    Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

    Hi daphne - thanks for visiting and putting me right on how Malaysians use Bovril. I had two slices of toast with Bovril late last night - yummy!

    7:23 pm  
    Anonymous Hsian said...


    Am a friend of Daphne's, also a Malaysian. Just thought you might like to know we also have a popular crab dish here where the shellfish is cooked in a sauce made from MARMITE! :)


    3:51 pm  
    Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

    Marmite? That's sacrilege!! :-) It sounds interesting, would love to try it.

    I'm interested to know if anyone found the new non-beef Bovril different in taste to the old beef variety. I can't say that I've noticed a difference.

    5:51 pm  
    Blogger jerry said...

    I was born inMalaysia and grew up eating Bovril and I simply loved it!! I hated Marmite and refused to eat it till today. I presently live in USA and it was impossible to obtain beef bovril here.

    However a few days ago my son (who shares the same love for Bovril) bought a couple of bottles of the new Bovril through the internet. It tastes better than Marmite but for those who say the the new veggie Bovril tastes the same as the beef Bovril, are wrong

    The new Bovril tastes better than Marmite BUT it does not taste the same as the old Bovril. It is slightly bitter (like Marmite which is even more bitter). The original bovril never had that bitter aftertaste!!!!!

    2:18 am  
    Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

    It's a shame they didn't keep an 'original' version alongside the new one.

    11:13 pm  
    Anonymous Johann Iceburger said...

    since the beef ban I have been eating Marmite, however today I picked up a bottle of Bovril and tried (for the first time in a very long time) a Bovril sandwich -Lovely! I then tried a Bovril drink (2 teaspons in a standard mug of hot water). I was surprised to find that I did not like it! So, for me its Bovril on toast/for cooking and Marmite as a drink. The best of both Worlds.

    2:05 pm  
    Blogger JACK said...

    Its back to beef again now in case anyone didnt notice!!

    11:57 pm  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    ive just had my 1st mug of bovril in nearly 30 years it was so yummy i just needed to let everone know buy british beefy bovril babes

    2:25 pm  
    Anonymous beef curtains said...

    i so agree with annonymous BUY BRITISH BEEFY BOVRIL BABES

    1:27 pm  
    Anonymous beefy bollox said...

    im drinking my bovril and its 3.12 am

    3:13 am  
    Anonymous oxo tits said...


    2:38 am  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Does anyone have any idea where I can get a Bovril mug?

    replies to

    10:50 pm  
    Anonymous Bucky said...

    Im having my very own bovril vs marmite debate at the moment. I honestly dont know where i stand. both are delicious (on toast) but i prefer it where they sink into the bread, rather than sit on top, as a paste.
    This evening i toasted 3 slices of bread and put bovril on some, marmite on the other. cut them up and mixed them around randomly, to see if my initial reaction to either would tell me what i needed to know.

    alas, i was equally delighted with both!

    12:28 am  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Here's another Bovril fan in Japan (was from Singapore). Yesterday, I had my mug hot Bovril after 30 years. As a child I loved Bovril but hated Marmite. I wonder why.

    Anyway, I think Bovril tastes exactly the same as 30 years ago even though many people seem to be talking about the original beef extract versus the yeast extract. On the Unilever site, I still see beef as an ingredient though.

    Also, glad to know that Malaysians don't add Bovril to their coffees. lol

    11:26 am  
    Blogger extremehamster said...

    Reading the ingredients list on the jar of Bovril in the kitchen cupboard, it seems that it does still contain beef extract. It also contains yeast extract.

    I think I'd be scarred forever knowing it had become a vegetarian-friendly product after eating it for almost 30 years of my life.

    I love Bovril.

    7:51 am  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    big beefy ball bags baby

    2:06 am  
    Anonymous Edmund Schofield said...

    I have been drinking Bovril for years & enjoying it. Afew months ago I was told to try Marmite on toast before putting the baked beans on it. I now never eat baked beans on toast without the Marmite. I liked it so much, I tried Marmite as a drink and it's even better (sharper) than a Bovril Drink. Marmite's for Ed Schofield from now on. Exmouth, UK

    11:44 am  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    bovril made me feel so good that i went out and had a vajazzle done

    1:22 pm  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    be very careful too much bovril will make your lady garden do a massive fart my loves

    7:07 am  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    my lady garden done a trump trump i should have listened to you

    1:05 pm  
    Anonymous contactos barcelona said...

    It will not work in fact, that is exactly what I think.

    6:55 am  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    As an American, it is wonderful to finally find other Bovril (as well as marmite and vegemite) fans out there. Most Americans when presented with any of the above, will try the substance straight out of the jar and then be repulsed by the strong flavors and high salinity. I unabashedly love Marmite and Vegemite, and have just ordered my first jar of Bovril from the UK. Any suggestions on where to find Bovril mugs? I'm tempted to make my own at someplace like Cafepress!

    2:30 pm  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    But you said you could tell the difference in your article?!?

    11:28 pm  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    bovril tits is back

    5:32 pm  
    Anonymous fanny fartzburger said...

    oxo hurts my fartzenkrakker jah

    12:35 am  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Never try it before, but always saw the advertisement on TVs in the early 80s. Most of the people here mix it with porridge. Wonder how its taste like.... I live in Singapore though

    2:34 am  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    people from singapore eat dogs,maybe you could add a touch of bovril to a nice poodle casserole for example?

    5:44 am  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    bovril made me do a big massive shit

    3:46 am  
    Anonymous BOVRIL CLTTY said...

    bovril made me do a clit fart FACT!

    12:55 am  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    bovril makes me do big fat shitty plops

    11:06 am  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    its bovril tits and turtle doves

    12:20 pm  
    Anonymous clitty von titty said...

    bovril tits licks beef curtains

    1:43 am  
    Blogger Zhuhainie Zull Kafli said...

    I'm from Malaysia n grew up in Sabah. When I was a child, my mum used to put some Bovril in into my rice porridge. Love it too much.

    As i grow older n move to another state in Malaysia of which eating Bovril is not a norm, Bovril is hard to get n gradually, I forgot about it. Not until recently i had a chit chat with my mum about her delicious rice porridge n she asked me if I remember that I used to love Bovril to be included in any of my meals and thats includes rice porridge.

    Now I'm having my fav rice porridge again. Thanks to the chit chat with my mum. The fond memories of childhood are now alive, again.

    3:52 pm  

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