Regular readers of 'Letters from the Atlantic’ will recognise that I am a great fan of Marmite. Yes, I readily accept that Marmite is rather like Blackpool or Benidorm - you either love it or hate it; in my case, I like all three. This 'Letter from the Atlantic' concerns my recent discovery about the thwarting of these miserable little beasts, mosquitoes, with a healthy dose of Marmite. No, I am not suggesting that you cover your bodies with a layer of the black stuff; although I am sure it would be effective, it may be going a little too far and you would not be too popular at parties.
When we first moved to Spain we lived very close to the salt lakes in the Costa Blanca. We quickly discovered that, at certain times of the year, attacks from mosquitoes were part of life and, as a result, mosquito blinds and nets were quickly installed in our home. I recall spending a miserable few months with my arms and legs covered with itching, red spots that took weeks to disappear. I spent hot summer evenings on our sun terrace, relaxing and enjoying a few drinks with neighbours - wrapped from head to toes in clothing designed to cover all parts of my body; I even wore long socks pulled over my long trousers. This was not quite how I had imagined life in sunny Spain. Despite these precautions I was badly bitten; the little 'perishers' clearly adored the taste of me.
Others were much more fortunate. My partner and many friends were rarely attacked, whilst others were, and it seemed that it was individual odour that mosquitoes were attracted to. Indeed, it seems that mosquitoes avoid around ten per cent of the human population, because they simply do not like their smell, and so I regard it as a compliment. We invested heavily in sprays and creams, whilst the usual bar chat claimed that it was alcohol in the blood that mosquitoes sensed and liked, and that they preferred some drinks to others! Well, I was certainly not going to change my favourite tipple just for them.
Moving to the Canary Islands, I was initially troubled by a few bites, although nowhere near as bad as in the Costa Blanca. However, after a few months right up to the present time, I am rarely bitten at all. This puzzled me until after listening to a recent radio programme and reading some of the latest research on the subject from a team who are designing new products to combat mosquitoes’ voracious appetites. This revealed that one of the things that mosquitoes dislike is the smell, and presumably the taste, of vitamin B12. It was at this point that all became clear.
In the UK I would eat Marmite regularly. However, moving to the Costa Blanca meant that there were no ready supplies available. There were more important things to do, such as getting a water and electricity supply, and so my passion for Marmite lapsed temporarily. However, after moving to the Canary Islands, we discovered a ready supply in our local supermarket and I started eating toast and Marmite again each day for my elevenses. Our dog, Bella, enjoys it too and always demands one ‘soldier’ and sulks if I forget. So what was the link? Well, it seems that as Marmite is rich in vitamin B12, this is acting as a mosquito repellent.
It seems that although there are many Marmite lovers and haters around the world, our mosquito friends really do detest the stuff! Readers may have their own strategies for dealing with the problem of mosquitoes. If so, do please let me know!
© Barrie Mahoney
From the 'Letters from the Atlantic' series by Barrie Mahoney
Living in Spain and the Canary Islands : ISBN 978-0995602724