Death of a yeast cell

June 16, 2009

This blog is a celebration of the amazing yeast cell and the sweet, sweet beer it quietly produces for us. But what happens when the beer party is over and we cast aside our worn out little friends? Marmite – that’s what!

A vastly inferior, Aussie yeast-extract that I won’t name has recently had some publicity – see here and here (though, I now see that this second example is actually fairly generic) – so it seems only fair to even the score.

To the brewer, yeast autolysis (commonly understood as yeast death, suicide or sex-act-gone-wrong) is a bad thing, imparting a number of nasty flavours into the beer as the cells destruct. Yet it’s this same process that gives Marmite its delicious taste. The process is triggered by adding salt to a suspension of yeast, which causes the cells to shrivel and triggers autolysis. Throw in some heat, remove the cells walls, add some other bits and pieces and then you have Marmite.

Marmite began in 1902 at Burton upon Trent – the famous English brewing town, with the waste yeast coming from the Bass Brewery. It wasn’t until the 1930’s when we Kiwi’s decided that we didn’t like the engine oil qualities of British Marmite and started playing with the recipe. Thanks to Sanitarium, we now have the true Marmite we know and love today.

Beer, bread, Marmite…is there anything yeast can’t do?



  1. I prefer Vegemite. Marmite is too sweet.

  2. Blasphemy! Please send some Yeastie Boys Beer to Nelson as penance.

  3. Should be at the Moutere Inn… mid-July. Check it out. They’re having a dark and delicious festival.

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