Vegemite can be considered the ketchup of Australia. It is a thick, salty spread made from leftover brewer’s yeast extract. You can think of it as a non-bitter, non-smelly Marmite.
Vegemite has been referred to as “the most Australian thing in the world” by several Australian Prime Ministers. From that, you can see that Aussies have a very special relationship with their national spread.
What is Vegemite? My goal is to explore this delicious and iconic Australian sandwich spread’s history, its use in recipes, and where it originated.
I will also share a few cooking tips to help you use your Vegemite, along with some recipes so you can get the most out of your jar of this thick and salty yeast extract.
Table of Contents
What Is Vegemite And How Is Made?
A key ingredient in Vegemite is the brewer’s yeast that remains after the beer has been brewed.
Spreads with umami flavors are typical in Australia and are often smeared on toast or stirred into recipes to deepen the flavors. Much like marmite, they are used in many recipes to add depth and flavor.
A yeast extract spread such as Vegemite is one of several available in Australia. In the recipe, the leftover brewer’s yeast is combined with vegetables and spices to provide the flavor.
Almost black, it has a very dark, reddish-brown hue and is one of the richest known sources of Vitamin B (B1 and B2).
History Of Vegemite
The Fred Walker Cheese Company of Melbourne, Australia, a company owned by Fred Walker (1884-1935), decided to create a yeast extract that would be delicious and nutritious for its customers. Vegemite was invented by Dr. Cyril P. Callister, the chief scientist in the company Fred owned.
The paste combined brewer’s yeast and yeast extract, celery, onion, salt, and a few other secret ingredients.
In 1924, a national competition was held to name the new product, and the winner was awarded 50 pounds. After Fred’s daughter Sheilah reviewed all the entries, she chose the name Vegemite.
Vegemite’s unusual and unique flavor did not immediately prove popular, and sales were slow. So vegemite was renamed and registered as Parwill in 1928 to boost sales and compete with the English yeast spread Marmite (which had dominated the Australian market since 1910). Parwill was Walker’s argument for carving a niche in the market for his spread if Marmite was the answer.
However, with the name Parwill, Walker failed to gain popularity, selling his product in Queensland for only a short period. At last, the original name was reinstated after it was withdrawn in 1935.
The Walker company had earlier arranged in 1925 to make cheese in Australia with the Chicago-based Kraft company. As a result, a company called Kraft Walker Cheese Co. was established alongside Fred Walker and Co. Walker used his success in creating processed cheese to launch a new campaign to revive Vegemite in 1935.
Fred Walker Cheese Company launched a two-year coupon redemption program in which customers could win a jar of Vegemite for every other product they purchased. Vegemite’s success was assured; Australians embraced it.
Once again, the company brought this product to the forefront of national attention with a poetry competition two years later. As a prize for winning, American Pontiac cars were imported, and that’s how sales multiplied as more people entered the contest.
Kraft Foods purchased the baking recipe and manufacturing techniques in 1935, and U.S. companies have manufactured the products ever since. The British Medical Association endorsed the product in 1939, allowing doctors to recommend it as a nutritionally balanced, Vitamin B-rich food for their patients.
In 1954, J. Walter Thompson advertising created marketing campaigns that helped Vegemite gain popularity, like the Happy Little Vegemite Song, performed by groups of smiling, healthy children. The first radio broadcast of the song happened in 1954, followed by a TV airing in 1956. Advertisement campaigns like this continued into the 1960s, making Vegemite more and more popular.
Differences Between Vegemite And Marmite
True enthusiasts that have tried both Vegemite and Marmite swear that Vegemite is a more potent mixture. However, the color of Vegemite (in a bottle, it appears black, but on toast or crackers, it becomes a dark brown color), its consistency like nut butter, and its umami flavor are all different traits.
With Marmite, you get a light, sweet, syrupy spread that is easier to spread and lighter than jam.
The main difference between the two is that Marmite tastes better, primarily if you were raised with it. If you haven’t tried either brand, you should give them both a try and see which side prevails. Personally, I prefer Vegemite because it is a little less salty and has a more intense yeast flavor.
The main ingredients of Vegemite are salt, wheat maltodextrin, sugar, vegetable extract (malt, onion, celery), whey, flavor enhancer 621 (MSG), spice extracts (clove oil, ginger oil), and added vitamin B1 (thiamin).
Vegemite is high in sodium, approximately 23 mg per teaspoon or about 5% of most people’s recommended daily sodium intake.
Is Vegemite Gluten-Free?
Wheat by-products are present in the original version. However, there is some good news; the company has created a gluten-free version of Vegemite (using gluten-free yeast).
As there is no gluten-free version of Marmite, Vegemite has monopolized this market with its gluten-free product.
Is Vegemite Vegan/Vegetarian?
Vegemite’s secret weapon is a blend of seasonings that supply its signature flavor, making it perfectly suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
It may sound bizarre, but once you give it a try, you’ll find that it can bring out the flavor in a variety of recipes and the “umami” or meaty taste that helps make vegan dishes more satisfying.
Is Vegemite Healthy?
Yes, it is! Doctors prescribe Vegemite as a health supplement due to its high levels of B vitamins. Vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B9 found in just one teaspoon are up to half your daily recommended intake. B vitamins play an essential role in brain health, which is why Vegemite is high in them.
Those looking to reduce their sodium intake without giving up on their favorite spread can now try the latest innovation – Vegemite 25% less salt, with the same mighty taste as Vegemite.
How To Eat Vegemite
Make sure you are aware of the intensity of the flavor before you start using it on toast and butter. The sandwich you’re making is not peanut butter. For your first taste, a quarter teaspoon should be perfect on toast.
Vegemite can also be used as a gravy or soup enhancer, or as a chef might say, “Give that shepherd’s pie a bit of Vegemite to liven it up.” Because it adds a pure umami flavor, a tiny bit will enhance the taste of a stew, chile, or gravy.
The trick to properly scraping Vegemite is to hold the jar at a 45-degree angle, broadside to your plate. Then, push down firmly with the narrow edge of the pot — you’re using friction and gravity to scrape off a thick clump of Vegemite.
Due to its density and viscosity, less is more when it comes to getting a good scrape; too little and your mouth won’t get that rich sensation; too much and you’ll be overwhelmed with saltiness.
Vegemite is closest in flavor and consistency to Marmite but at a thinner consistency. Use it as Vegemite on toast or rub it over chicken.
Miso is unmissably different from Vegemite because it’s creamy, salty, spreadable, and full of umami. Spread on toast with a bit of butter. But, it still makes for a savory substitute. To get the most salt and umami from your miso, find a darker, more aged version.
Many yeast extracts spread with similar texture and flavor profiles are available worldwide, including Swiss Cenovis, New Zealand Marmite (different from English Marmite), Australian Promite, and OzEmite.
Interested in traditional Australian Food? Check out our other guide:
Would you try Vegemite? Let us know in the comments section below!
Igor Jovanovski is an aspiring digital nomad, travel blogger and graphic designer who really loves food. He also has a creative side, and he works as a freelance graphic designer in his spare time. He has traveled across Europe quite a few times since he was young and recently started his mission to visit every country in the world! Igor’s favorite thing about traveling is the way he gets to know new people, food, places and cultures.
This exciting experience helps him create his own stories and make memories that will last forever