Marmite is a popular yeast extract spread that originated in the UK but is now enjoyed worldwide. With its distinctive savory, umami taste, Marmite makes a tasty addition to meals and snacks. However, as a product derived from brewer’s yeast, Marmite naturally contains gluten. This leaves many gluten-free eaters wondering: Can you have Marmite if you follow a gluten-free diet?
What is Marmite?
Marmite is a concentrated yeast extract that is created as a byproduct of beer brewing. It is made from the yeast slurry that remains in brewing vats after the beer fermentation process is completed. This slurry is then boiled down to create a sticky, molasses-like paste that is highly savory and umami-rich.
The finished Marmite product contains a number of B vitamins, including niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and folic acid. It is also high in glutamic acid, which contributes to its strong savory flavor. The spread is rich in umami, the fifth taste sense that recognizes savoriness.
In the UK and Commonwealth countries like Australia and New Zealand, Marmite is commonly spread on toast, eaten in sandwiches, or used to flavor soups, stews, and savory baked goods. The intensely salty, meaty taste of Marmite enhances other ingredients.
Does Marmite Contain Gluten?
Yes, Marmite does naturally contain gluten. Since it is produced from brewer’s yeast, it contains gluten from barley and sometimes wheat. These gluten-containing grains are used in the beer brewing process that creates the yeast slurry from which Marmite is made.
On its nutritional label, Marmite does not specifically list gluten as an ingredient. However, it does list “yeast extract,” which is where the gluten comes from. Marmite’s website confirms that the spread is not considered gluten-free.
The exact amount of gluten in Marmite varies between different production batches. One independent test of Marmite found it contained around 16 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. However, the gluten content can range from 7-40 ppm. This is below the 200 ppm threshold to qualify for many countries’ gluten-free labeling standards.
Benefits of Marmite for Gluten-Free Diets
While Marmite does contain some gluten, it offers a few advantages that make it appealing for inclusion in gluten-free diets in moderation:
- Highly concentrated gluten: With only around 16 ppm of gluten per serving, Marmite may be low enough for most celiacs to tolerate in restricted amounts. The total gluten content is very small compared to bread or pasta.
- No added wheat: Marmite does not contain added wheat, only the small amount of residual gluten from the brewer’s yeast. So it does not contain the higher levels associated with foods made from wheat flour.
- Nutritious: Marmite provides B vitamins, amino acids, and minerals that could help supplement nutrient deficiencies common in celiac disease and gluten-free diets.
- Flavors gluten-free foods: The savory umami punch of Marmite adds a meaty, rich flavor to gluten-free dishes, enhancing taste satisfaction.
For these reasons, some followers of gluten-free diets choose to incorporate Marmite in moderation to boost nutrition and taste diversity.
Risks of Marmite for Gluten Sensitivity
However, there are also several factors suggesting that Marmite may not be suitable for gluten-free diets:
- Gluten present: No matter how little, Marmite does contain gluten and is not actually gluten-free. Any amount of gluten can trigger reactions in those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
- Gluten content varies: The exact ppm of gluten in any given Marmite product is unknown and seems to fluctuate. Even tiny increases could potentially affect sensitivity.
- Used in spreads: Since Marmite is used as a spread, it is difficult to precisely restrict serving sizes to control gluten intake.
- Risk of cross-contamination: As a product that contains gluten, there is a higher risk of Marmite cross-contaminating gluten-free foods during production or preparation.
For those who are highly gluten-sensitive or need to strictly adhere to a gluten-free diet for medical reasons, these factors may mean that Marmite is better avoided altogether.
Recommendations for Marmite in Gluten-Free Diets
Whether or not someone following a gluten-free diet can safely eat Marmite may depend on several individual factors:
- Level of sensitivity: People vary widely in how sensitive they are to gluten. While some celiacs react to traces of 5-10 ppm, others can tolerate up to 50 ppm with minimal issues.
- Health status: Those with severe gluten-related symptoms and malnutrition may need to be stricter than those in remission or who follow the diet by choice.
- Diet type: People on a strict medical gluten-free diet for celiac disease need to be more cautious than those avoiding gluten for other reasons.
- Quantity consumed: The more Marmite someone eats, the higher their gluten intake. Some may do fine with small amounts but not more.
For highly sensitive celiacs or those early in their gluten-free transition, it may be best to avoid Marmite altogether or reserve it only for rare occasions to prevent reactions. For those who are less sensitive or in remission, sparing use of Marmite to flavor foods may be tolerated.
Some recommendations for incorporating Marmite into a gluten-free diet safely include:
- Checking for gluten-free certification on Marmite products if available.
- Contacting the manufacturer about gluten testing policies and gluten levels.
- Limiting Marmite servings to 1/4 teaspoon or less at a time.
- Spreading it thinly on gluten-free crackers or bread.
- Adding it sparingly to flavor soups, stews, drizzles, or sauces.
- Avoiding cooking with it or mixing into gluten-free baked goods.
- Selecting Marmite squeeze tubes or small packets to control portions.
Being extremely careful about cross-contamination is essential too. This may mean:
- Storing Marmite separately from gluten-free foods.
- Using a separate Marmite knife and keeping jars tightly sealed.
- Refraining from double-dipping with knives, spoons, etc.
- Always washing hands and surfaces after contact.
Those who experience any symptoms or adverse reactions after eating Marmite should consider avoiding it if following a strict gluten-free diet for medical reasons.
For gluten-free eaters looking for a substitute, there are a few options that provide a similar savory, umami flavor without gluten:
Gluten-Free Yeast Extracts
Some brands now offer yeast extract spreads made from gluten-free yeast sources. These provide the same taste profile as Marmite in a gluten-free form. Examples include:
- San J Tamari Organic Wheat-Free Yeast Extract
- Marigold Engevita Yeast Extract with Vitamin B12
- Health Connection Yeast Extract Spread
This thick, savory Japanese seasoning offers a similar umami hit to Marmite. Look for gluten-free miso made from just soybeans and rice.
These inactive yeast flakes have a nutty, cheesy flavor that enhances many foods. Though not exactly like Marmite, it provides gluten-free B vitamins and umami richness.
Soy Sauce or Tamari
Gluten-free soy sauce and tamari are salty and umami-filled. A small drizzle can mimic Marmite when flavoring roasted meats, soups, etc.
This gluten-free sauce and seasoning replicates Marmite’s salty, meaty flavor. It can be used similarly in cooking or spread on crackers.
The Bottom Line
Marmite does contain a small amount of gluten, so it is not considered gluten-free. However, some individuals who follow gluten-free diets are able to tolerate it in restricted amounts. Factors like level of sensitivity and diet type play a role.
The most gluten-sensitive celiacs should avoid Marmite, especially at the start of their transition to a gluten-free diet. Others may be able to incorporate it sparingly to boost nutrition and flavor after their health stabilizes. Proper precautions should be taken to prevent cross-contamination.
Gluten-free yeast extracts, miso, nutritional yeast, tamari, and Maggi offer suitable alternatives for those avoiding all gluten. With careful consideration of individual needs and limits, an occasional smear of Marmite may be possible for some gluten-free eaters.