Vegemite is a dark brown savory spread invented in Australia in 1922. Most Aussies love it, making it an iconic Australian food, but the taste can be polarizing to those unfamiliar. The thick paste is made from yeast extract flavored with vegetables and spices. It's practically fat-free, sugar-free, and vegetarian, but it is not gluten-free.
- Nutritional Information: rich in the B vitamins
- Place of Origin: Australia
- Most Common Use: spread on toast
What Is Vegemite?
Dr. Cyril Callister, a chemist employed by the Fred Walker Company, which later became Kraft Foods Limited, developed Vegemite, which hit grocery shelves in 1923. But it wasn't until 1939 that it caught on with the public, gaining official product endorsement from the British Medical Association for its high vitamin B content. By 1942, Vegemite was so firmly fixed in Australian hearts and palates, it had to be rationed in order to meet the huge demand by the armed forces during World War II. Today, Australians are known to travel outside of their country with jars of Vegemite in their luggage for fear of having to do without it.
The base of this thick, dark-colored food spread is made from the leftover yeast extract from beer production. There are no artificial colors or flavors; only salt, vegetable extract, malt extract from barley, and B vitamins such as niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, and folate. In addition to spreading on toast, Aussies use it on sandwiches, crumpets, and as an ingredient in pastries. Vegemite is about four times the cost of Nutella, the chocolate-hazelnut spread.
Vegemite vs. Marmite
Considering their similar names and packaging, identical uses, and common main ingredient, you might think that Australian Vegemite and British Marmite are the same. But the two yeast-based spreads are considered to be different from each other.
The first difference you will notice is how they look. Vegemite is so dark in color it could be mistaken for chocolate spread, while Marmite is a rich brown, more like caramel. Marmite also has a more syrupy consistency, while Vegemite is thick like peanut butter.
When it comes to taste differences, it may depend on who you ask. Some say whereas Vegemite is salty with a prominent umami flavor, Marmite has a slight sweetness to it. But others will not taste any hint of sweetness in the Marmite and will describe it in the same way as Vegemite. Both are a "you either love it or hate it" food and fall into the category of "acquired taste."
Typically, Vegemite is lightly spread on toast or crackers along with some butter. The keyword here is "lightly" as a very little goes a long way due to its strong taste. It also can be spread on toast with cheese slices or avocado or spread on toast to make Vegemite soldiers for dippy eggs (soft-boiled eggs). Vegemite is sometimes used to flavor soup stocks or meat pies and meat and potato pies. And then there are those who just like to eat it by the spoonful directly from the jar.
What Does It Taste Like?
Vegemite is an acquired taste and one that frankly defies description. If push comes to shove, it can best be described as having a salty taste with a subtle bitterness. The umami flavor may remind some of an intense soy sauce. The uninitiated should try it in small doses at first.
Where to Buy Vegemite
Although Vegemite is a staple in Australia, it can be difficult to find in the U.S. Amazon carries multiple sizes of the salty spread, and World Market—both in stores and online—also sells Vegemite. The spread may also be on the shelves of your local supermarket if it does a good job of stocking international foods.
It is available in 150-gram, 220-gram, and 380-gram jars, as well as 145-gram tubes and packs of "Happy Little" portions (9.6 grams).
Vegemite should be stored in its original container in the pantry where it will last for at least one year. There is a "use by" date, but many Australians who have been enjoying the condiment for most of their lives say that they ignore it and continue to use the spread indefinitely. As long as you are careful to avoid any cross-contamination—meaning not putting the knife with butter on it into the Vegemite jar—you should be able to use the product for a long time.
Nutrition and Benefits
Vegemite is very good for you—the label on the jar boasts the high level of B vitamins (thiamin B1, riboflavin B2, niacin B3, and folate) saying "For Vitality." A 5-gram serving delivers 25 percent of your recommended daily intake of riboflavin and niacin, and 50 percent of the RDI of folate. B vitamins play an important role in your well-being and overall health impacting brain function, energy levels, and cell metabolism. These vitamins also promote good digestion, proper nerve function, cardiovascular health, muscle tone, and cholesterol and hormone production, as well as preventing infections.