Iconic flagship of Australian cuisine and culture.
Black tasty Yeast extract.
Pefect on toast.
Puts hair on your chest.

Compare and contrast:
Marmite (yucky)
Promite (very yucky)

See Vegemite theme song

The sad reality is, though, that Vegemite is made by Kraft and Kraft is American. Sacrilege!

Enter heroic and geeky entrepreneur Dick Smith, currently hard at work inventing OzEmite....

Buying bread from a man in Brussels He was six foot four and full of muscles I said, do you speak-a my language? He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich*

So, twenty three years since I first heard of the stuff, on Men at Work’s album Business as Usual, in a song about the land Down Under, I decide to try to find some vegemite and taste it. Back in 1981 I was under the impression that it was something made from vegetables, as the name seems to imply. Later I learned that it was a yeast product, and salty, and in my head it was kind of gray and grainy. I knew Australian kids eat it from a young age, spread (thinly) on toast; everyone else who has ever tried it seems to think it was nasty. But I like salty things, and I was bored, and looking for ways to procrastinate on my schoolwork; what could be better than a treasure hunt for a new food?

I live in Charlottesville, Virginia. There are more restaurants per capita here than anywhere else in the state, and a fair number of grocery stores and specialty shops, as well. I called Whole Foods and asked if they carried vegemite; the woman I spoke with sounded disgusted at the mere thought. I called Foods Of All Nations, a pricey place where I don’t usually shop, but true to their name, they stock it. So off I went.

A friend of mine tells me I (grocery) shop like a rich person. I buy foods I’ve never heard of, or have heard of but never tried. If you’re on a limited budget, she explains, you stick to tried-and-true favorites. Waste not, want not. Well, Foods of All Nations is the place for a food adventurer. They sell everything from rendered duck fat (make your own pate!) to Turkish Delight (the treats the White Witch fed to Edmond in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe); scores of boxes and bottles and cans of sauces and seasonings and ingredients for taste treats from around the globe. And there, next to the Marmite and the Promite, were assorted jars of Vegemite. I selected the small size.

Back at home, I realized I didn’t have any bread in the house. I cut open and toasted a pita pocket instead, and then mindful of flamingweasel’s instructions, I buttered it. I then opened the vegemite, and got my first surprise. It’s not gray or grainy. It has a rich, dark brown color, and it's thick and smooth in texture. It looks like dark chocolate nutella, or fudge icing that comes ready-made in tubs from Betty Crocker. It smells like a mixture of Guinness and soy sauce. Not surprisingly, that’s pretty much how it tastes, as well.

I liked it, I really liked it.

Vegemite contains: yeast extract (made from brewers’ or bakers’ yeast), salt, potassium chloride, calcium chloride, malt extract, caramel color, “natural flavor” (whatever that means)**, thiamine (Vitamin B1; 25% of the recommended daily value, based on a 2000 calorie diet), riboflavin (Vitamin B2; 45% DV), and niacin (Vitamin B3; 25% daily value).

It is manufactured by Kraft Foods, and Kraft is an American company, but the jar I have was manufactured by Kraft in Australia. Vegemite contains no fat, and has only ten calories per serving. The official website contains recipes ranging from breakfast foods (scrambled egg croissants) to dinner and snacks (roast pumpkin and leek risotto; lamb kebabs, frijole dip). I imagine it would be a good addition to sauces or stews because of its dark, rich flavor, but one would have to be careful not to use too much, for fear of the finished product being too salty.

Over 22 million jars of vegemite are now sold every year. From the website:

Kraft has had an on-going commitment since the 1920s to reinforce the message to Australians that Vegemite is nearly five times more concentrated than yeast, making it one of the world's richest sources of the energy giving Vitamin B group. And the best thing for breakfast since sliced bread.

There is now a Happy Little Vegemite Foundation, which aims to give back to the community that has supported the product for over eighty years. The HLV Foundation awards grants to “not for profit organizations who are working in their local community to create a happy, healthy, and safe future for those people under the age of 18”. More information is available on the website.

Sources: * ** golFUR says "natural flavor" is MSG, but DejaMorgana says "Kraft Foods are very good about allergy/sensitivity labelling, and i suspect they would include MSG as a listed ingredient, not hide it under 'natural flavors'. Vegemite is indeed very rich in glutamate, but this probably comes from the yeast extract, not as an added ingredient."

Post Script: I have returned to the store and bought the supplies for a taste test. Sadly, I must report that both Marmite and Oxo have a sticky consistency, more like caramel sauce or molasses, not as pleasant as the velvet smoothness of vegemite, and they don't taste quite as good, either. (Sorry, Ralphy.)

Anybody who knows an Australian has heard of Vegemite. It is usually described as a thick, black, sticky, salty yeast spread for bread. Sounds horrendous, doesn’t it?

The history of this product is rather interesting, and is, in many ways, a snapshot of Australian culture. Introduced in 1922 by a fellow named Cyril Callister, Vegemite was created in an attempt to figure out what to do with brewery waste. That’s right, folks, Vegemite is what’s left over after brewing up beer.

Vegemite was not a very big hit in Australia until the Great Depression smacked into the world in 1929. When the depression hit, parents were concerned about how to pack the most nutrition into the most people for the least amount of money. Vegemite provided a solution, being very high in B vitamins and very inexpensive. It could be spread on toast or crackers, it could be used as a soup base, it even turned out that it made for a marvelous seasoning mixed in with ground beef (which Aussies refer to as ’mince’). All in all, it was a miracle food, good for the kids, good for the budget, and sales began to truly take off.

At some point in the 1930’s, Walker Cheese Company, which manufactured and distributed Vegemite, was purchased by the American corporation, Kraft Foods. An interesting point here is that although Kraft is a US company, it has never marketed Vegemite in America.

By the time World War II came along, Vegemite was in such high demand by the populace that preference in distribution was given to Aussie troops, often leaving the people back home without their Vegemite toast in the mornings.

In 1954 the Happy Little Vegemite jingle was heard for the first time. This jingle is as much a part of Australian culture as Waltzing Matilda or the kangaroo. There isn’t an Aussie alive who can’t sing it, and very few who don’t crack a grin when they hear it. I’m not sure, but I think this may be the longest running jingle in advertising history, as it is still being heard in advertisements today.

In the early 1970s, Vegemite introduced the slogan "Pass the Vegemite please, Mum", which became a popular catch phrase throughout Australia and can still be heard in use today.

Today, Vegemite is found on every breakfast table in Australia. Restaurants pass out small packets of the tarry black ambrosia the way that American restaurants hand out packets of jelly or catsup. And, with the size of the world shrinking down to next to nothing, Vegemite now enjoys worldwide notoriety of a sort that it had never before experienced.

I am a flag waving American girl, and my own introduction to Vegemite came through chat room discussions with Aussies on the net. They would wax poetic about this strange sounding stuff, and I would respond that it sounded hideous to me, thankyouverymuch!

Little did I know that I would end up falling in love with, and becoming engaged to, an Australian. After a few years, I went with him to visit Australia. We went to Brisbane to hang out with mutual friends so that I would not have to run the future in-law gauntlet on my first trip to the Land of Oz. Of course, there was Vegemite in our hotel suite. And of course, I refused to touch it. Touch it? Hell, I wouldn’t even KISS Isaac after he had eaten it.

A few days into our trip, a half dozen friends were visiting us in the suite, and Isaac decided that now was the time. He made some toast, buttered it, scraped a thin layer of Vegemite onto it, and forced me to taste it. Amidst an uproar of laughter from beer guzzling Aussies, I promptly stood up and spat it out the window!

And a few hours later, I was thinking about that strange taste, and woke Isaac from a sound sleep. "Lover?" I said. "Will you make me some more Vegemite toast?" I was well and truly hooked.

Terry Pratchett put it best, when he wrote about it in his Discworld book, The Last Continent. He described it as being burnt beer soup with a ton of salt in it, and that it tasted dreadful, but was bonzer stuff on bread, Mate.

Pratchett was right.

For the uninitiated, there is a right way and a wrong way to eat Vegemite. The wrong way is to treat it like jam or peanut butter. This is NOT something to spread thickly, at least, not for the novice. Make some toast, butter it liberally, and then scrape a very very thin coating of Vegemite onto it. You want to see the bread through the Vegemite, or you’ve put far too much.

Of course, some of us (ME!) spread it like peanut butter. We also order it from the sole US distributor by the 5 pound tub, which lasts the true Vegemite connoisseur about 6 weeks.

And finally, since everybody needs to at least see these brilliantly lyrical lines, The Happy Little Vegemite Song!

"We’re happy little Vegemites
As bright as bright can be.
We all enjoy our Vegemite
For breakfast, lunch and tea.
Our Mummies say we’re growing stronger every single week
Because we love our Vegemite.
We all adore our Vegemite.
We’re growing stronger every week."

Try it, spit it out, and try it again. You’ll like it.

The real reason that people tend to dislike Vegemite is the fact that they serve it to themselves in the wrong way. When you're making a Vegemite sandwich, spread the butter over the bread, then spread the Vegemite so that it blends in a little with the butter. When making toast, spread the Vegemite THINLY. When making toast soldiers, spead it a little thicker but not too thick.

It works. I never really adjusted to Vegemite until I learned this little pearl of wisdom form someone who had been around Vegemite a lot longer than myself - my father. I am travelling to the States in January, and I hope that I can use up all my little travel packets of Vegemite... and I hope to teach Americans how to eat Vegemite properly.

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