Vegemite is a dark brown savoury food paste made from yeast extract, used mainly as a spread on sandwiches, toast and cracker biscuits, as well as a filling of pastries like Cheesymite scroll, in Australia and New Zealand. It is similar to British and New Zealand Marmite (in texture and appearance but not flavour) and to Swiss Cenovis.
Vegemite is made from leftover brewers' yeast extract, a by-product of beer manufacturing, and various vegetable and spice additives. The taste may be described as salty, slightly bitter, and malty - somewhat similar to the taste of beef bouillon. The texture is smooth and sticky, much like peanut butter. It is not as intensely flavoured as Marmite and it is less sweet than the New Zealand version of Marmite.
Vegemite is popular with many Australians, who commonly consider it a national food and a cultural icon. It can be found in shops around the world, particularly where there are large populations of Australian expatriates. Vegemite has not been successfully marketed in other countries, apart from New Zealand, and has failed to catch on in the United States, despite being owned by US food company Kraft Foods. When seen in the United States, the Vegemite label often does not contain the Kraft logo.
Vegemite was invented in 1923 by food technologist
Dr. Cyril P. Callister
when his employer, the Australian company Fred Walker & Co., gave him the task of developing a spread from brewers' yeast following the disruption of British Marmite imports after World War I
. Callister had been hired by the chairman Fred Walker
. Vegemite was registered as a trademark
in Australia that same year. The registration was later transferred to Kraft, a US multinational, which has maintained an interest in Vegemite since the 1920s. In 1919, New Zealand company Sanitarium
began manufacturing a version of Vegemite's biggest competitor, Marmite, and shipping it to Australia.
The name Vegemite was selected out of a hat by Fred Walker's daughter, Sheilah. Faced with growing competition from New Zealand's Marmite, the product was known from 1928 to 1935 as Parwill, leading to the convoluted advertising slogan, "Marmite but Parwill." that is, "Ma [mother] might like the taste but Pa [father] will." This attempt to expand market share was unsuccessful and the name was changed back to Vegemite. Today Vegemite far outsells Marmite and other similar spreads in Australia.
The billionth jar of Vegemite was produced in October 2008.
Vegemite and cheese
During the 1990s, Kraft released a product in Australia known as Vegemite Singles. It combined two of Kraft's major products into one. The product consisted of Kraft Singles
with Vegemite added, thus creating Vegemite-flavoured cheese. This extension of the Vegemite product line was an attempt by Kraft to capitalise on the enormous popularity of Vegemite and cheese sandwiches (made by placing a slice of cheese into a Vegemite sandwich). Vegemite Singles were later taken off the market, possibly due to poor sales.
United States ban rumour
In October 2006, the Melbourne newspaper, the Herald Sun
incorrectly reported that Vegemite had been banned in the United States, and that the United States Customs Service
had gone so far as to search Australians entering the country for Vegemite. The story appears to have originated from an anecdote from a traveller who claimed to have been searched and a spokesperson for Kraft who made a misinformed comment to reporters. The story led to some anti-American comments in blogs and newspapers. The Herald Sun
blamed the US President
for the ban, and encouraged readers to post comments on its website and send emails to the White House.
The US Food and Drug Administration later stated that although it is technically illegal in the US to add folate to food products other than grains, there were no plans to investigate whether Vegemite contains folate, to subject it to an import ban, or withdraw it from US supermarket shelves. The United States Customs and Border Protection also tried to dispel the rumour, stating on its website that "there is no known prohibition on the importation of Vegemite" and "there is no official policy within CBP targeting Vegemite for interception". The story of the "ban" later took on the status of urban legend. While Vegemite has never been popular in the U.S., it can still be purchased at supermarkets that stock imported food items.
Vegemite is rich in B vitamins
, but unlike Marmite and some other yeast extracts, it is not artificially fortified with vitamin B12
Advertising and branding
Vegemite's rise to popularity was helped by marketing campaigns begun in 1954, using groups of smiling, attractive healthy children singing a catchy jingle entitled "We're happy little Vegemites". The two young twin girls who sang this advertising jingle were known as the "Vegemite Twins". In March 2007, Kraft announced that they are trying to trace the original children from the campaign to celebrate the advertisement's fiftieth anniversary.
Australian slang usage
This jingle gave rise to an Australian slang
expression "happy little Vegemite" – a happy person. This first became popular in the 1950s, from a 1959 advertising jingle: "We're happy little Vegemites as bright as bright can be. We all enjoy our Vegemite for breakfast, lunch and tea
". Since then it has also been extended, ad hoc, to various similar expressions, such as "good little Vegemite" and "clever little Vegemite". The term is also used in the (often humorously intentioned) derogatory slang for a male homosexual in "Visitor to Vegemite Valley", referenced by the Barry Humphries
character Sir Les Patterson
. In the film Hercules Returns
worriedly asks "Does this mean that I'm a visitor to Vegemite Valley"?
- I said, "Do you speak-a my language?"
- He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich.
- The original 1986 lyric to the John Williamson song "True Blue" included the lines "Is it standing by your mate/ When he's in a fight?/ Or just Vegemite?" later Williamson changed the final line to "Or will she be right?"
- Vegemite is also mentioned in Williamson's song "Home Among the Gum Trees": "You can see me in the kitchen/ Cooking up a roast/ Or Vegemite on toast". Williamson sang both songs at the memorial service for Steve Irwin.
- The Vegemite Tales, by Melanie Tait, is an Australian comic show regularly performed in London's West End.