What is Vegemite?
History of Vegemite
It was developed by Dr Cyril Callister in Melbourne, in 1922 from brewer’s yeast. Dr Cyril named this as “Pure Vegetable Extract”.
But the official name was chosen by the public. Fred Walker & Co., the original company held a public competition and offered an attractive price for the winning name. This is how the name Vegemite was chosen and for the past century, it has been an Australian breakfast staple.
It hit the grocery stores in 1923 and was marketed as “Delicious on sandwiches and toast, and improving the flavors of soups, stews and gravies”.
Vegemite sales struggled to take off initially. The sales were low mainly due to its forerunner the British Marmite, which was already well established and liked by many.
It took some years for this product to hit it off with the local crowd and as soon as it gained popularity, it became the household staple. It is said that Vegemite became so popular after world war II as the troops were finding it difficult to source its predecessor, the British Marmite to the other side of the ocean.
Vegemite commercial variations
Australian kids are raised on Vegemite and it is the equivalent of American peanut butter & jelly aka PB&J.
In order to capitalize on the popularity, the manufacturing company Kraft Foods released a line of commercial variations of the famous product in early 1990. Vegemite Singles, Vegemite Cheesybite, My First Vegemite, Chocolate and Vegemite, ands Vegemite Blend 17 are some of the few commercial variations of the original product. They are all similar in taste but the salt content and vitamin content vary in each product.
What’s in Vegemite?
The components of Vegemite are yeast extract, salt, malt extract, vegetable extract and vitamins like B vitamins, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin and folate. Hence, the Australian staple is highly nutritious and the British Medical Association has endorsed it as a rich source of B vitamins. It is also promoted as a healthy food for kids.
The main ingredient in Vegemite is the yeast extract. Yeast extracts are derived from fresh yeast by fermentation and separation of yeast cells. They are mainly used as flavoring agents in savory foods and used as food additives or as nutrients for bacterial culture.
Vegemite and umami
Vegemite is very salty, mildly bitter and malty. It is similar to a bouillon paste. It is considered to be umami-rich, the recently recognized fifth taste, which makes it the most suitable ingredient for flavoring and enhancing savory dishes.
Umami corresponds to the flavor of glutamates, especially monosodium glutamate (MSG) and gives our palate the same taste experience. Umami rich components are found in foods that contain L-glutamates such as fish, shellfish, fermented products like cheese, fish sauce, soy sauce, nutritional yeast and yeast extracts like Vegemite and Marmite.
Since this is prepared from the remains of commercial beer production, preparing it at home becomes quite complex. Manufacturers use a centrifuge to separate out the yeast cell membranes from the rest of the product and hence homemade Vegemite will not give us the desired result in terms of texture and taste.
How to use Vegemite
Vegemite is commonly spread onto sandwiches, toast and crackers. It is also used as fillings in pastries, or to flavor soups, sausages or salads as it gives a unique flavor. The official Vegemite site has published so many recipes using the product. Besides being a spread, the iconic Australian ingredient is incorporated in all savory dishes.
Preparation of Vegemite toast
There is no recipe per se but there is a proper way to enjoy this toast. As soon as the toast is out of the toaster, smear a good amount of butter on top. The key here is to use a toast right out of the toaster. Then take a small dab of Vegemite and spread it thinly on the buttered slice.
The butter helps in smooth spreading of the Vegemite and also helps down in cutting its strong flavor. You can also add cheese or avocado on top of the toasts to vary a bit, or even make a Vegemite sandwich with another toast on top.
Other Vegemite variations
Apart from the widely known British Marmite and Vegemite, there are several yeast-extract based food products. There are several products, especially spreads made from yeast extract which are found throughout the world, such as New Zealand Marmite, Promite, OzEmite, Aussimite, German Vitam-R, or Swiss Cenovis. Marmite vs Vegemite? It is really a question of taste… and national pride!
Vegemite is Australia’s national identity and has been referenced in all popular culture. The Vegemite taste is an acquired taste and not everyone likes it at the first bite. Try this Vegemite toast recipe and see for yourself.
- Toast the bread slices and spread butter generously while they are still hot.
- Spread a thin layer of Vegemite over it and enjoy immediately.