marmite hp sauce bovril

Brown Icons



Love it or hate it, as the company slogan goes, Marmite is undeniably part of the UK’s heritage and one of the most unique British icons. But British Francophobes will be sickened to learn that the name of the world famous yeast spread that divides the UK when it comes to breakfast time, originally came in from the small earthenware pot it was served in - a French casserole dish called a Marmite. The French dish can be seen on the front of the present day pot which has hardly changed since it was first designed and produced in the 1920s.

Marmite is a sticky brown paste with a very strong flavour - not dissimilar from soy sauce - that is generally spread on toast at breakfast time. Invented in 1902, Marmite quickly became a firm favourite with the British, and if the writings of George Orwell are anything to go by (Keep the Aspidistra Flying and The Road to Wigan Pier), the dark brown substance probably ‘brightened’ up the UK’s dining tables in the pre-war years.

Originally manufactured in Burton, Staffordshire, in 1907 a second factory was opened in London to meet demand in the South. After a number a number of buyouts the Marmite brand is now owned by Unilever who are more famous for manufacturing detergents, the use of which also seems to divide the UK.

HP Sauce

Nothing says ‘home’ to British expats more than HP Sauce…and of course, their homes. Originally developed in the late 19th century in Nottingham, by a Mr F.C. Garton, the sweet and spicy sauce caused shockwaves with its exciting new flavour, and brownness. Garton soon heard that his sauce was being used by politicians in the Houses of Parliament, London, and that is how the sauce got both its famous name and logo.

However, Garton wasn’t the shrewdest customer and had accrued debts of £150.00 to businessman Henry Samson Moore who spotted an opportunity and took the rights to the name and recipe in lieu of the money. Moore bided his time, and the sauce wasn’t mass produced until 1906 when it was launched nationally on a fleet of donkey-drawn carts.

In 2006 American food giant Heinz bought HP Sauce, and in 2008 production of one of the most quintessentially British foodstuffs was switched to the Netherlands. Despite its move to a country where they serve cannabis and prostitutes with food, HP still remains a firm favourite in the shopping trolleys, and on the breakfast tables of the UK.


How do you turn a cow into a sticky brown substance that can be spread on toast or made into a hot drink? Well we at haven’t got a clue, but the makers of Bovril obviously have because they have been doing it since the 1870s when it was developed to feed the UK’s soldiers fighting the armies of Napoleon III. What started life as Johnston’s Fluid Beef, later became Bovril from bovine, the Latin name for all cow-like things; and ‘Vril’, a fictional energy fluid from a popular late-nineteenth century novel.

By 1888 Bovril was being sold from over 3,000 outlets up and down the UK, winning over customers with its intense, salty taste and inviting brown colour. Bovril became a favourite drink of British soldiers in both the First and Second World Wars, and has since become the drink of choice at half-time for the UK’s football fans. Today British icons Bovril and Marmite, are owned by Unilever, the detergent company with a liking for brown, British, sticky stuff.