Sunday, March 15, 2009

Apple #374: Vegemite

My friend Karen, who is Australian, asked me to do an entry about Vegemite. Never having tasted or even seen the stuff in real life, I'm going solely by what I find online. Let me know if I've left anything out or gotten anything wrong, OK, Karen?

Vegemite spread on toast, which is the most common way to eat it.
(Photo from Eat Out Zone)

  • Vegemite is a spreadable paste made primarily from Brewer's Yeast. Ugh, sorry Karen, but that just sounds nasty.
  • It's thick and black and very salty, like beef bouillon. Supposedly it smells like very strong soy sauce. You eat it the same way you eat peanut butter -- spread on a sandwich. Except because it's so salty, spread it on thinly.
  • It is so salty and, er, potent, most non-Aussies compare it to things like salty battery acid, the remnants of a dead slug killed by salt, etc. Lots of Australians, however, say that sort of reaction is a sign that the non-Aussies have tried to eat too much at once or else they're just wimps.

Ad for Kraft Vegemite from Women's World, 1925.

  • Brewer's Yeast, the main ingredient in Vegemite, is a specific type of yeast. All yeasts are actually fungi which forms clusters of living organisms. Brewer's Yeast in particular can be used for lots of things, from brewing beer to making bread.

Brewer's yeast
(Photo from the Cook's Thesaurus)

  • In its deactivated form (the yeast is no longer active or alive), it's a favorite among vitamin-lovers because it's super-rich in all the B vitamins. My mom used to make us take Brewer's Yeast pills along with our breakfast. Tasted grainy and bitter and pretty terrible.
  • This is the primary component of Vegemite. It's also got bits of celery and onion, lots of salt, and some secret spices.
  • In 1922, the Kraft Walker Cheese company (today, Kraft) wanted to make a spreadable paste from Brewer's Yeast. So they hired a food chemist to come up with something.
  • Months later, Dr. Cyril P. Callister emerged from the lab with a "tasty spreadable paste."

1930s ad for Kraft Vegemite

  • The company had a contest asking people to name the paste, and the winner was supposed to get 50 pounds prize money. Nobody knows anymore who came up with the winning name or whether that person actually got paid. But they had a drawing and Dr. Callister's daughter pulled out one of the entries, and on it was the name Vegemite.

1970s magazine Kraft Vegemite ad. I think she's trying to give back the sandwich.

  • Over the years, the company we now know as Kraft kept up the marketing campaign, asking people to write jingles for Vegemite, seeking and being granted official endorsements from the British Medical Association, and continuing to tell everybody how nutritious Vegemite was, especially for pregnant women. So it retained its popularity even through World War II when it had to be rationed so that most of it could go to the Australian armed forces.

Vegemite commercial from the 1960s featuring the Happy Little Vegemites jingle -- which many Australians are more than pleased to sing upon request -- plus some additional insanity thrown in.

  • Vegemite remains popular in Australia today. Currently, Kraft sells 22 million jars of it each year.

Kraft Vegemite ad from 2001

  • Other ways people eat Vegemite:
  1. With melted strips of cheese on top -- "tiger toast."
  2. On toast with eggs
  3. In a quiche
  4. Rolled up in a pastry with cheese and cut so you can see the spiral
  5. Added to gravy
  6. As part of a marinade for beef or chicken or shrimp that you then put on the grill and barbecue.
  7. To flavor soups
  8. In meatloaf
  9. Baked in bread
  10. In tomato sauce over pasta
  11. A teaspoon of it given to a child to suck on and soothe a toothache

Vegemite is also sold now in squeezable tubes like this one.
(Photo from About Australia)

And of course, there is the song "Land Down Under" by Men at Work, which may have been the first time I ever heard of Vegemite.
(Vegemite reference at about 1:00 in)

Kraft, Vegemite Heritage
What's Cooking America, History of Vegemite
Urban Dictionary, Vegemite
Syrie Wongkaew, Vegemite - An Australian Icon,
Eat Out Zone, Vegemite


  1. What's the difference between vegemite and marmite? If they're the same thing, why the different names?

  2. Hi Malcolm. I wondered if someone would ask that. Marmite is pretty much a New Zealand thing, while Vegemite is Australian. There are also slight differences in how the two are made and what they taste like. They're also made by different companies.

  3. Brewer's yeast is excellent for preventing/reducing hangovers. I bet that's why Aussies like it. They're the hardest-drinking English people in the world, which is why they also have the smallest brains. I'm not making this up.

  4. Uh-huh. Sure you're not.

    Unless you're Australian yourself?

  5. A friend of mine brought me a small packet of Vegemite from Australia. I never got around to trying it and it got so old that I threw it I'm glad.


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