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The Secret Ingredient to the Best-Ever Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd's pie in a pan

Try to name a better wintertime dinner than a classic shepherd's pie (go ahead...we'll wait). The layers of peas and carrots and meaty goodness all topped with fluffy mashed potatoes? It's easy, flavorful and downright heavenly. But what if we told you you could elevate your shepherd's pie with an ingredient you've probably never picked up before?

Get ready to meet your new favorite culinary secret weapon: Marmite. We talked to the experts to find out all about Marmite, how it can help improve your shepherd's pie and (most importantly!) where to find it.

Related: 20 Creative Shepherd's Pie Recipes

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What is Marmite and where can you find it?

Marmite is a dark, thick spread made from concentrated yeast extract that lends a meaty flavor to foods even though it is vegan and vegetarian-friendly. The "love it or hate it" condiment has been around since 1902 when German scientist Justus Freiherr Von Liebig accidentally discovered that the waste product derived from yeast used in brewing beer could be made into this meaty flavored concentrate. The Marmite Food Company, which is now owned by Unilever, is still located in its original location in Burton-on-Trent in England. The factory produces 39 tons of Marmite a day and at any one time, the factory has enough Marmite stored to spread across 98 million slices of toast!

In the United States, you can easily find Marmite on Amazon, at Cost Plus World Market or at specialty food stores. It's also available in the international section of some supermarkets.

Related: 52 Easy Irish Recipes

How can Marmite improve your Shepherd's Pie?

Claire Lower, the Digital Editor at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street, says that a source of deep umami is key when making shepherd's pie (or cottage pie, which is usually made with ground beef vs the lamb traditionally used in shepherd's pie).

"Marmite provides a wallop of umami," she says. "The flavor is almost like a super-concentrated, burnt soy sauce with a yeasty character."

Lower says that Marmite is almost "offensively savory" on its own, but that it's an excellent choice for adding to a shepherd's pie since it gives a "lovely, deep flavor that fills the palate." We suspect many Brits would argue with Lower on the "offensively savory" point, but Marmite definitely is packed with flavor.

Related: 150+ Ground Beef Recipes to Make Dinner a Whole Lot Easier

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How Do You Add Marmite to Shepherd's Pie?

In traditional recipes for shepherd's pie, you would brown the meat and then add in other seasonings, including tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce. At this point, you would add in the Marmite. Recipes that use it call for adding about 1-2 teaspoons of Marmite. Don't be nervous to try this one even if you're not a Marmite-lover—the yeasty, salty flavor makes the meaty filling taste richer and meatier.

And if you can't find Marmite, you may be able to find its Australian cousin, Vegemite, which is similar enough to use as a swap in something like shepherd's pie. Some people find Vegetmite a bit more intense than Marmite, so add a little bit and then add more to taste. If you can't find either one, add a few splashes of soy sauce, which will add a different kind of flavor but will still deepen the flavor of the dish.

Lower says it's definitely worth giving Marmite a try, and is a good experiment for your next weeknight dinnertime. You might want to try adding just a little bit to your meatloaf mix, beef stew or your next batch of meatballs. "There's an aggressive savoriness to it that's nearly impossible to recreate with other ingredients," she says.

Next: My Father-in-Law Cracked the Code to the Best-Ever Beef Stew