Vegemite is a yeast spread, an Australian competitor to British-made Marmite.
It is a very shiny, very dark, reddish, deep-brown spreadable paste. It is so thick that if you were to tip a jar up, it might take hours or days for it to run out of the jar.
It is salty-tasting, but milder than Marmite. It smells vaguely akin to soy sauce. Detractors say it smells like seaweed gone rancid.
It is present in 90% of the homes in Australia.
Vegemite is made from an extract from yeast leftover after beer making.
The yeast is sieved, then washed to remove bitterness, then put in plain water heated to 98.6 F (37 C.) As the yeast cells die (no food for them has been added to the water), they release minerals and vitamins into the water. Through centrifugal force, the yeast cells are removed, leaving behind the nutrient-rich water, which is then concentrated under vacuum, and seasoned with spices and flavoured with vegetable extracts from vegetables such as celery and onion.
Jars list the following ingredient information: Yeast Extract, Salt, Mineral Salt (508), Malt Extract (From Barley), Natural Colour (150d) [ed. aka Sulphite ammonia caramel] (Contains Preservative 220), Vegetable Extract, Niacin, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Folate.
Vegemite can be stirred into soups, stews, gravies, and rice dishes.
Australian bakeries make savoury spiral pastries with cheese and Vegemite in them.
It is mostly, though, used in sandwiches, thinly spread on bread.
Rich in Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), and B6 (Folate)
The salt content of original recipe was 10%; this has been reduced to 8%.
Vegemite was invented in 1922 by a chemist, a Dr. Cyril Percy Callister (1893 – 1949.)
He was working for the Fred Walker Cheese Company in Melbourne, Australia, which produced cheeses and meats, owned by Fred Walker (1884-1935.)
Marmite had already on the Australian market since 1910, marketed by the “Sanitarium Health Food Company.”
Callister had just joined the company. Walker gave a sample of Marmite to Callister, and asked him to imitate it, which he did. The yeast used was supplied by Carlton & United Breweries in Abbotsford, Melbourne (established 1907, since 1983 owned by Elders Brewing Group, later renamed to Fosters.)
He held a competition for the name, inviting suggestions to be submitted. His daughter (Sheilah) selected from the submissions the name “Vegemite”, and the person who suggested it (name unknown) was awarded 50 Australian pounds. Names she rejected included “Black Fecula” and “Slagamite.”
He launched Vegemite in 1923. It was first sold in 2 oz (56g) amber-coloured glass jars. The label said it was “Pure Vegetable Extract.” He face heavy competition at first from Marmite, the established yeast spread product. Later, when he’d broken into the market, he increased the size offering range to 2, 4, 6, and 8 oz jars, and in tins, 1 pound and 6 pounds.
- 1925 – Fred Walker arranges to have the making of Kraft processed cheese in Australia farmed out to him, and he created a subsidiary to his “Fred Walker and Co. Company” called the “Kraft Walker Cheese Company”;
- 1926 – Vegemite was sold in opaque porcelain jars with metal lids;
- 1928 – Walker attempted to rename the product to “Parwill”, hoping that would boost sales. The name was a slag at Marmite (“if Marmite, then Parwill” — if Ma might, then Pa will), but it was too obscure a reference and didn’t help at all. By 1935, the name was back to Vegemite;
- 1933 – Walker introduced new jars that could be used afterwards for other things, anything from salt and pepper shakers to an egg cup;
- 1935 – Walker had a breakthrough idea: when a consumer purchased any other product made by his company, they got a free jar of Vegemite. This got people to try it. The campaign lasted for 2 years. You got a coupon for a free jar of Vegemite;
- 1935 – Fred Walker dies. The rights to Vegemite were sold to Kraft. At some point prior to this, Walker had changed the description to “Pure Yeast Extract.” When Kraft acquired the product, they changed the description again to “Concentrated Yeast Extract”;
- 1937 – The company held a contest for people to write poems about Vegemite, giving away a Pontiac car as a prize;
- 1939 – Before the war, the company got the British Medical Association to endorse the product as a good source of Vitamin B;
- 1942 – Consumer sales of Vegemite were rationed, as much of the Vegemite made was going into rations for Australian troops. For the troops, it was packaged in tins. Sometime around World War II, Vegemite finally overtook Marmite in sales in Australia.
- 1940s – Vegemite jars could be used as drinking glasses, and featured Disney characters on the labels;
- 1950 – Fred Walker and Company absorbed completely into Kraft. Packaging changes to opaque glass jars with metal lids.
- 1952 – The letter “K” appears on the label, representing Kraft;
- 1954 – The Vegemite jingle was introduced on radio. It disappeared in the 1960s, and was reintroduced in the 1980s. It was recorded with morning sound-effects in 2002;
- 1960s – The label still present today (2006) emerged in the 1960s. “K” became “Kraft”, spelled out in full, and surrounded by a hexagon;
- 1980 – The packaging was changed to clear glass jars with metal lids;
- 1984 – In April, Vegemite became the first item to be electronically scanned at a cashier’s stand in Australia at a Woolworth’s in Chullora, New South Wales;
- 1989 – The words “All Natural” were added to the label;
- 1991 – The metal lid was replaced with a tamper-proof yellow plastic lid;
- 1999 – Plastic disposable tubes of Vegemite were launched. They disappeared after a while, then reappeared in 2002;
- 2000 – The jars that could be used afterwards as drinking glasses were re-issued as special memorabilia;
- 2004 – October. Kraft declined a buy-out offer for Vegemite from Australian businessman Dick Smith.
Literature & Lore
We are happy little Vegemites as bright as bright can be,
We all enjoy our Vegemite for breakfast, lunch and tea,
Our mummy says we’re growing stronger every single week,
Because we love our Vegemite,
We all adore our Vegemite,
It puts a rose in every cheek!
— Vegemite jingle.
“Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six foot four and full of muscles
I said, “Do you speak-a my language?”
He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich”
Lyrics from the song “Land Down Under”. Men At Work. 1982.