With the interconnectivity of our modern world, you probably regularly come across recipes from other parts of the world (or actively seek them out). But sometimes, foreign recipes specify ingredients that are difficult or impossible to source locally, such as the British spread, Marmite.
So what can you use as a Marmite substitute? We investigate the options.
What Is Marmite?
Before looking at what you can use as a Marmite substitute, it is helpful to clarify what Marmite is and its role in a particular recipe. Depending on what the person who developed the recipe intended, you may want to use a single ingredient as a replacement or a combination of two or more ingredients for a similar taste effect.
Some Marmite substitutes are easy to find, whereas others are rare or expensive. You may wish to make your purchasing decisions in light of how often you make dishes that call for a flavor profile like that of Marmite.
Marmite is a thick, dark brown paste that resembles really dirty engine oil in appearance and has a yeasty, highly salty, and umami-rich flavor. Traditionally spread thinly on toast, its one-time marketing slogan, “love it or hate it,” accurately sums up the polarizing effect it has on consumers. In the UK, “marmite” is a byword for this effect.
Marmite contains yeast extract, celery extract, spices, and salt, but no ingredients of animal origin, making it a vegan condiment. It is full of B vitamins, including B12, often in short supply in vegan diets.
Choosing a Marmite Substitute
If a recipe calls for Marmite, leaving it out and not substituting it will alter the flavor profile and saltiness of the dish. Instead of doing so, choose substitutes with similar saltiness and yeasty or fermented flavor.
If you need a Marmite substitute to smear on bread, you may be able to mix one of the alternatives listed below with butter to create a spread. Other alternatives can be used in cooking, but you may need to adjust factors such as the amount of salt.
Vegemite is the Australian equivalent of Marmite and most closely resembles it in taste. However, rather than using yeast extract, it uses malt extract. As a result, it is even darker in color and has a distinctly beer-like flavor. It also includes onion and has a thicker consistency that closely resembles that of peanut butter.
The Brits and the Aussies have a long-standing, vehement, usually friendly argument over which product is better. It used to be challenging to obtain, but many specialty international food stores now stock it. Vegemite is also a vegan product.
It works just as well on toast as Marmite does (according to the Australians), although you will have to get used to Vegemite’s more distinctly malty flavor. It also makes an excellent Marmite substitute in meat dishes and broths to lend umami and saltiness – remember to warn your family or guests not to add extra salt.
A mixture of softened butter and some Vegemite makes a great chicken rub and basting mixture when roasting a chook.
Bovril comes in bottles with the same shape as Marmite due to some shared history. It is slightly less bitter and sweeter due to the inclusion of sugar, and the yeast note doesn’t dominate as much due to the presence of meat-based ingredients (it also has 19 ingredients, as opposed to Marmite’s five).
Don’t be surprised by its color; it’s supposed to be that almost black shade.
If you are not vegan or vegetarian, you may find Bovril a very acceptable Marmite substitute that can be used in many of the same ways, whether spread on toast or used in soups and stews for meaty, umami flavor. It also makes a pleasant drink to have occasionally as a pick-me-up (the Brits call this beef tea).
The most characteristic flavor is beef meat extract, but there is also a chicken variant. Unfortunately, the major downside of Bovril as a Marmite substitute is that it may be as hard to find in the shops.
Miso is a Japanese condiment made of fermented soybeans and has a consistency similar to peanut butter. The high protein content of soybeans gives it plenty of umami, while the fermentation process lends a distinctive funky note, which is more pronounced in miso that has fermented for longer. It is also quite salty.
The soybeans are fermented using a fungus called kōji, which is cultured on soybeans, rice, or barley; these different substrates influence the taste of the kōji and hence the flavor of the miso.
Barley miso is relatively sweet, rice miso sour and salty, and soy miso (red miso) darker and has a richer, more-developed flavor. Use red miso in stews and soups as a Marmite substitute or in Japanese recipes designed to meld its flavor with counter-balancing ingredients.
White miso combines well with unsalted butter to spread on bread. Miso can also be drunk as a broth.
Because soybeans do not contain gluten, and no wheat is added to miso during production, it makes an excellent gluten-free Marmite substitute for anyone with gluten sensitivities.
Pronounced “denjang,” this condiment is the Korean equivalent of miso. It’s also made with fermented soybeans and salt, creating a thick, brown paste with a salty, somewhat sour burst of umami. Unlike miso, the culture used to ferment it isn’t first grown on grains.
It has a funky, Gorgonzola-like smell, but this doesn’t come through in the taste. If you’re used to the smoothness of miso, don’t be shocked by how coarse doenjang is. You can mix it with unsalted butter to spread on toast or add it to many savory dishes for rich flavor.
Soy sauce originated in China but is now also closely associated with Japanese, Korean, and Indonesian cooking. It is similar to miso in its funky, fermented, salty, and umami flavor, making it a great Marmite substitute in soups, gravies, or for marinating meat.
Soy sauce adds flavor and a rich brown color to food, and it’s vegan. Most types of soy sauce, its Japanese derivative, tamari, and its Indonesian derivative, ketjap manis, have some wheat in them, which means that they are not gluten-free.
However, some brands of ketjap manis are gluten-free, as are some kinds of tamari (Yamasa makes an excellent gluten-free tamari). Tamari is often made as a by-product of producing miso, so it’s usually gluten-free (but always check labels!)
While soy sauce contains salt, if you use it as a Marmite substitute while cooking, we recommend adding some salt or fish sauce to bring the saltiness on par with Marmite. You can’t smear it on toast (obviously), but it does mix well with butter to make a truly delicious spread.
First made in the 1830s, Worcestershire sauce is Britain’s answer to soy sauce. It’s a vinegar-based fermented sauce with lashings of tamarind, molasses, onion, and garlic that give it a rich, salty, umami flavor, making it an ideal Marmite substitute when making soups or marinating meat.
It isn’t vegan, as it generally contains anchovies, and British-made Worcestershire sauce isn’t gluten-free, either (because it uses malt vinegar). US-made Worcestershire sauce usually uses white vinegar as a base, so it is gluten-free.
Unless you’re really into Japanese culture and food, you’ve likely never encountered dashi. But if you need a Marmite substitute to add tons of umami during cooking, you won’t find a more intensely-flavored option than this.
Dashi is a stock made from kombu (brown seaweed or kelp), katsuobushi (shavings of dried, smoked, and fermented fish), and sometimes shiitake mushrooms too. The combination results in an absolute umami-bomb, and plenty of saltiness, too. You can get it in liquid form or as powder.
Highly popular in Asia and Latin America, Maggi sauce was developed in Switzerland. It is thick, sticky, and almost black; its taste also resembles that of Marmite, with loads of umami and hints of sweetness and saltiness. The recipe is a closely-guarded secret, but it is thought to contain lovage.
It isn’t widely available in the US, but you will probably find it at your nearest grocery store catering to Mexican or other Latin immigrants.
Nutritional yeast is a health supplement that has become widely popular and far more available in recent years. It is also made from brewer’s yeast, but unlike Marmite, the yeast is deactivated and made into flakes, granules, or powder.
It isn’t as salty as Marmite, making it a great low-sodium alternative. It has a similar yeasty, umami flavor but a milder, nutty character overall. Nutritional yeast is an excellent option if you’re looking for a Marmite substitute that isn’t as distinctive (and polarizing) in taste and appearance.
It is vegan but not gluten-free due to being cultured on gluten-containing grains. It has similar health benefits to Marmite, especially as a source of vitamin B12. The flavor profile is somewhat like cheese, so many vegans use nutritional yeast to add cheesy flavor to dishes or to make vegan cheese.
It won’t work on bread, but if you’re looking for a mild, low-sodium Marmite substitute for soups and broths, nutritional yeast may be what you’re looking for. Although this is a tasty and nutritious product, it doesn’t resemble Marmite in most respects.
Fish sauce may seem particularly left-field as a Marmite substitute when you first see it, given that it’s a very pale brownish liquid. You definitely cannot spread it on toast, no matter how much butter you mix it with. You won’t get that yeasty taste, and you won’t get the rich brown color.
Are you looking for a salty condiment that will add loads of umami flavor during cooking without changing the color (for example, if you want to show off vegetable colors)? You may want to try fish sauce. It’s made of pressed and fermented anchovy-like fish, salt, sugar, and water.
It does smell a little fishy (especially when added directly to a hot dish), but the final taste is heavenly.
Mushroom paste is made of sautéed and pureed mushrooms, creating a vegan umami-rich condiment. Adding some soy sauce to it creates something that doesn’t particularly resemble Marmite, but which still makes a decent Marmite substitute.
If a recipe calls for Marmite and you don’t have any, you will probably find an acceptable Marmite substitute on this list. A Brit would tell you there’s no true substitute, but there’s a world of salty, funky foods just waiting for you to include in your cooking!