The Danish government is cracking down on stores selling the British sandwich spread Marmite, provoking howls of anger among British expatriates in the Scandinavian country. Government officials in Denmark assert that the yeast-based paste is not illegal, but rather regulated, with retailers needing special approval from the Danish Food and Veterinary Administration.

What is it in Marmite that has the Danish government cracking down its sale?

Marmite was first produced in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, England, in 1902 as a way to monetize the discarded yeast from area brewers, in particular, Bass. The sticky, salty paste was an immediate success. The name is a French term for a cooking pot, which is still depicted on the product's label. Marmite was originally sold in small earthenware pots that mimicked its namesake in shape. The dark brown paste was originally popular among vegetarians as a replacement for similar beef extracts, and was spread thinly on crackers or spooned into hot water to form a broth. Such food extracts were popular in general at the time.

The paste is made by adding salt to the yeast by-product from breweries, heating the solution until the cell walls of the yeast are softened, then straining the solution to make it smooth. The result is naturally rich in vitamins, especially the Vitamin B complex, but additional vitamins and minerals are added to Marmite--and that is what the Danish government dislikes.

The main ingredients of Marmite yeast extract, salt, vegetable extract, niacin, thiamine, spice extracts, riboflavin, folic acid, and celery extract, but the exact composition of the spread is a trade secret. The vitamin concentration in the savoury paste is very high, which is one reason why the spread has remained popular despite its strong taste, and why it is considered a vitamin-enhanced foodstuff in Denmark. A serving of the product provides 36 percent of the recommended daily allowance of niacin, 50 percent of the folic acid a body needs, and 40% of the recommended daily allowance for Vitamin B-12. The Kellog's company has likewise run afoul of the Danish government for its cereals.

Marmite can be stored at room temperature and won't decompose, even after years. The spread loses none of its pungency, but it can dry out.

Its detractors are as numerous as its fans. Perhaps the Marmite Food Extract Company can challenge the Danish ruling by arguing that it shouldn't be considered a foodstuff at all.