What is Vegemite?
Vegemite is considered as much
a part of Australia's heritage as kangaroos and the Holden cars. It is
actually an Australian obsession that has become a unique and loved symbol
of the Australian nation. A Vegemite sandwich to an Australian kid is the equivalent of a peanut butter
and jelly sandwich to an American kid - but the taste is QUITE different!
Vegemite is one
of several yeast extract spreads sold in Australia. It is made from leftover
brewers' yeast extract (a by-product of beer manufacture) and various
vegetable and spice additives. It is very dark reddish-brown, almost black,
in color, and one of the richest sources known of Vitamin B. It's thick like
peanut butter, it's very salty, and it tastes like - well let's just say that it
is an acquired taste!
children are brought up on Vegemite from the time they're babies. It is said
that Australians are known to travel all over the world with at least one
small jar of Vegemite in their luggage, for fear that they will not be able
to find it.
Did You Know?
22.7 million jars of Vegemite are manufactured in Australia every year - that's 235 jars per minute.
30 jars are sold in Australia for every one exported.
Vegemite is in nine out of ten pantries in Australia.
History of Vegemite
In 1922, Fred
Walker (1884-1935) of Melbourne, Australia decided to try to make a special
"yeast extract" that would be as delicious as it was nourishing for his Fred
Walker Cheese Company to sell. The chief scientist in the company Fred owned
was Dr. Cyril P. Callister, and it was Dr. Callister who invented the first
Vegemite spread. He used brewer's yeast and blended the yeast extract with
ingredients like celery, onion, salt, and a few secret ingredients to make
this paste. In 1912, a national competition and a prize of 50 pounds was offered to
the winner or winners to name the new product.. The name ‘Vegemite’ was finally chosen from
the entries by Fred’s daughter Sheilah.
With its unusual and unique flavor, Vegemite
was not an immediate success and sales were slow. In 1928 Vegemite was renamed and registered as Parwill in an attempt to boost its sales and to attract customers of the rival
spread Marmite (an English yeast spread that dominated the Australian market since 1910). "If Marmite...then Parwill" was the rationale behind Walker's strategy to
carve a niche in the market for his spread. The name Parwill and Walker's play on words didn't catch on. It was only sold as Parwill for a short time in Queensland.
The name was withdrawn in 1935, and the original name was reinstated.
Earlier, in 1925, Walker had arranged with the Chicago, Illinois firm of
James L. Kraft to make processed cheese in Australia. A company called the
Kraft Walker Cheese Co. was established alongside Fred Walker and Co. In
1935, Walker used the success of his processed cheese to launch a new
campaign to revive Vegemite. The company launched 2-year coupon redemption
scheme whereby a jar of Vegemite was given away with every purchase of other
products in the Fred Walker Cheese Company. Australians tried the product
and loved it. Vegemite was well and truly on the road to success.
Two years later, the company held a poetry competition and once again
brought Vegemite into the national spotlight. This time its success the
prizes were imported American Pontiac cars. Entries flooded in and sales
In 1935, the recipe and manufacturing methods was sold to Kraft Foods and
has been wholly owned and made by American companies. In 1939 Vegemite
received endorsement from the British Medical Association which allowed
doctors to recommend it as a Vitamin B-rich, nutritionally balanced food for patients.
In World War II,
soldiers, sailors, and the civilian population of Australia all had Vegemite
included in their rations. Soldiers’
Vegemite came in three sizes: seven-pound tins for the platoon, eight-ounce tins for soldiers on the go, and half-ounce rations for behind enemy lines.
This war-time demand meant that civilian were limited. Hence, advertisements were run to explain the situation:
“Vegemite fights with the men up north! If you are one of those who don’t need Vegemite medicinally, then thousands of invalids are asking you to deny
yourself of it for the time being.
The main change to the original recipe in recent years has been to reduce the salt content from 10% to 8%.
Vegemite's rise to popularity was helped
by the marketing campaigns written by J. Walter Thompson advertising in
1954. They used groups of smiling, attractive healthy children singing a
catchy The Happy Little Vegemite Song (see below). The song was
first aired on radio in 1954 and then on television in 1956. This
advertising campaign continued until the late 1960s.
The Happy Little Vegemite Song
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 Sandwich Recipe
Yields: 1 serving
Prep time: 5 min
Using your favorite bread, some butter or margarine, and of course, Vegemite.
Spread butter on a piece of toast or bread.
Cover very thinly with Vegemite (for the optimum Vegemite sandwich you only need a dab). Dip your knife
in the Vegemite, and scrape up just a bit (it will mix right in with the butter and spread easily). Some people like to "marble" the
Vegemite into the butter/
Eat it open-faced and enjoy!
Photo from Multi-Cultural Cooking Network.