If you come to Australia there is a 99% chance that you will encounter the thick black-brown paste that many Australians like to spread on their toast, crackers and sandwiches. There is also a 99% chance that your Aussie companions will make you try it. Some unknowing travellers expect that Vegemite will be sweet and perhaps taste like the famous French spread, Nutella. Never have they been so wrong. This blogpost is aimed at telling the truth about vegemite so that you know what to expect when you visit the land down under. Vegemite isn’t for everyone, but hopefully with this knowledge you will be able to enjoy it as much as your Australian friends.
What is it?
Vegemite is a thick almost black-brown food spread. The spread is a concentration of left over brewer’s yeast with added spices and vegetable extracts. It is a rich source of B vitamins and has a strong salt and Umami taste. Umami is Japanese for “pleasant savoury taste” and makes up the fifth taste alongside sweet, salty, bitter and sour. Umami can be found in other foods such as tomato and fish sauce and is associated with the type of flavour you would get from concentrating the pan juices after roasting a piece of beef or cooking mushrooms. This rich, meaty flavour is why many non-Australians are confused and revolted by Vegemite. These people find the taste foreign and are taken by surprise. The trick with Vegemite is familiarity. Once you get used to it you will find yourself craving the unique taste over and over again!
Why do Australians love it?
Maybe this is why Australians love Vegemite – because we are familiar with it. The fact is that we were brought up on the stuff. From the moment Australian babies can chew solids, soft Vegemite sandwiches with butter become a staple. Then we have 13 years of packed school lunches with regular Vegemite sandwiches and Vegemite crackers. For Australians, Vegemite is a simple and extremely comforting food. Many generations of Australians have enjoyed it. The toddler eating vegemite today becomes the parent spreading it on a school sandwich tomorrow.
We love vegemite because it is synonymous with being Australian and has been since 1923. When I was babysitting a little boy last week, I gave him a Vegemite sandwich. He tucked in and had vegemite all over his face, down his shirt and covering his hands. His dad came home while he was still eating the sandwich and laughed saying, “that’s my little Aussie boy – he loves his Vegemite.” It is almost patriotic to eat vegemite; Australians seem to take great pride in thoroughly enjoying a spread that so many others dislike!
We like Vegemite so much that it’s common to find a tube of the stuff tucked into the suitcases, backpacks and handbags of travelling Australians. Vegemite is the comforting taste of home, and when those umami cravings hit, Australians don’t want to be caught without it!
How do you eat it?
When you come to Australia and are asked to try Vegemite DO NOT make the terrible mistake of eating a spoonful or dipping your finger into the jar. Not even a seasoned Vegemite eater would do that! Vegemite is enjoyed in a variety of ways, but never on its own! It is an extremely strong spread and when trying it for the first time I would suggest toasted bread with a heap of butter and a thin scraping of Vegemite.
But of course, Vegemite is enjoyed in a variety of ways. In 2007 Kraft launched the campaign “how do you eat your Vegemite?” which revealed the top 12 types of Vegemite eaters. The list included the:
– Streaker: only a little bit of Vegemite
– Crumpeter: Vegemite on crumpets
– Redback: on toast with tomato
– Wormer: on sayo crackers so you can squish the Vegemite and butter through the little holes
– Slapper: LOTS of vegemite slapped on toast
– Tiger toaster: strips of cheese over the top and toasted
– Scrambler: on toast cut in half with scrambled eggs
– Dunker: cut into soldiers and dipped into soft boiled eggs
– Nudist: no butter used, just Vegemite
– Edger: spread right to the edge of the toast
– Vegecadoer: with avocado on top
– Phillymite: with Philadelphia cream cheese instead of butter
But of course everyone has a favourite way to eat Vegemite. My favourite way? Toast with Vegemite and honey. The perfect combination of sweet and savoury – YUM!
There are also many recipes that use Vegemite in baking and cooking. Vegemite is often used to increase the meaty flavour of stocks and sauces while the Vegemite and cheese scroll is an old favourite. My favourite weird recipe using vegemite is this Vegemite cheesecake. Gross or tasty? Who knows!
Have you ever tried Vegemite? Did you like it? Let me know in the comments below!