Friday, June 27, 2008

We're 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 appears to be a typically Australian oddity. No other nation quite grasps our fascination with the spread, replacing it with poor substitutes such as Marmite. Perhaps you need to grow up with Vegemite to truly appreciate just how good the scrapings of the bottom of a vat of beer can taste.

It was invented, or discovered if you prefer, way back in 1922 by a young chemist with the impressive name of Dr Cyril P Callister, who was hired by the Fred Walker Food Company (which became Kraft Foods Limited in 1950) to make a spread out of brewers yeast. They wanted a convenient source of Vitamin B, and this seemed to be the answer.

So he developed this spread, and released it labelled "Pure Vegetable Extract". He then launched a competition so that the public could name the spread properly. In a remarkable twist of fate, or perhaps by some darker means, Fred Walker's daughter, out of all the hundreds of entries, won by naming it Vegemite.

The spread's popularity was not immediate. Marmite dominated the market, and people seemed reluctant at first to try the new option. But Vegemite was helped along by another invite to the public, this time to come up with a jingle which is now passed into each Australian fetus via the umbilical cord so that all babies are born knowing and singing the song transcribed above. Vegemite was also given a massive boost by being approved by the British Medical Association as a great source of Vitamin B.

During World War II, domestic supplies of Vegemite were severely restricted due to the demand from the armed forces. We shipped that stuff out to "our boys" like it was going out of fashion. But it wasn't. Demand for the stuff increased hugely over those years, and domestic sales soared after the war, partly thanks to the endorsment of various health professionals, and our own post-war baby boom.

Today, Vegemite's recipe is more or less unchanged and over 22 million jars are sold each year. Now that was a spread worth inventing.

All this because I wanted Vegemite on toast for breakfast this morning. Naturally, being good little Australians (and happy little Vegemites), we do have Vegemite in the house at almost all times. But we didn't have any bread.


Menchie said...

I must admit I'm a lot curious about it. Never tasted the stuff. My cousin, to my knowledge, never had it in his house so i don't remember tasting anything like it when we visited. At least he made me try kiwi fruit!

Within Without said...


What a brilliant, witty, informed, super-interesting post, Stace! Now I know perfectly what it's all about.

Donn will kill me for not being able to remember the name of the Aussie group that included a reference to vegemite sandwiches in its song about The Land Down Under...

That's where I first heard that term. I've come over the years to be more aware of it, but not to this extent.

Thanks! Now I want to try one to see what all the fuss is about. Can you send one?

Hope Aidan's fine and you too.

Stace said...

Menchie - Kiwi fruit is nice, don't you have it there???

WW - The song is "Land Down Under" by Men At Work. "I said do you speak my language / She just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich"

Email me your postal address ( and I'll see if I can send you a jar of vegemite. I'm sure it must be possible to post, because I've heard stories of lost Australian backpackers getting their mothers to send it to them!

Donnnnn said...

Love it! Like the adorable Menchie, I too, would like to taste it
..I mean how bad can it be?

Is it still cheap? Is it loaded with preservatives now? Is it sweet, bitter, weird, bland, grassy???

Is it thick, drippy, mossy, slimey?

It mus taste like something that people might recognise? I think the name is sounds like termites pre-masticated vegetables..ew!
Termitically sealed so to speak...gross!

Hey I I don't even know what Marmite is...preserved termitically pre-masticated Marmots?

Andrew said...

Your comedic timing was excellent! "But we didn't have any bread". I feel very sorry for your great problem, but at the same-time cant stop laughing.

That Vegemite jingo (sp?) is the greatest in Australian advertising. The words and tune have never changed unlike other great Australian add campaigns like Mortein "Louie the fly" and Spray and Wipe.

I hope you send instructions on how to eat the Vegemite too. Something like:
Toast the bread, add butter.
Spread the Vegemite so thin that you can hardly see it - trust me you will still be able to taste it.
Prehaps a photo as well.

On a different topic (I know that there is a difference between the USA and Canada) The American government banned the importing of Vegemite in 2007.

The reason that Australian houses dont run out of it is because that it takes ages to dissapear even if you eat it three times a day (My grandfather used to eat it on vegetable pasties). So you buy more when the jar looks almost empty when in reality there is still enough to go on twenty slices of bread.

We always fed it to our Jappanese Exchange Students, they never appreciated it though, said it was too salty.

Sorry my comment is too long. Take care and I hope you can find some bread.

Andrew said...

... Spray and Wipe is probably not Australian...

...cant find info on googgle... looking up Ajax...

...nothing, failed Googgle-101!

Stace said...

Donn - it's thick and brown and tastes like salty yeast extract! It's hard to describe. I'll send you some if I can, and Chris. I mean I'll send some to Chris, not I'll send Chris to you.

Andrew - there's no such thing as "too long" for a comment! Hello! Did I tell you I'm coming to Melbourne for a weekend in September? 5th - 7th. Also, regarding spreading Vegemite, it should be put on thick! Or maybe I've just eaten too much of it over the years and killed off all my tastebuds.

Frank Baron said...

Never had it but I HAVE had marmite and didn't like it. Someone told me vegemite was JUST like marmite - only more so.

So I think I'll pass. ;)

Maybe ya gotta be born an Oddsie to love the stuff. :)

Andrew said...

Good stuff. Your coming to see me for my birthday on the 7th. That is good news.
Tell me if you two need a driver to and from airports

Althea said...

Aw man...I'm hungry now...I think I'm going to go get some Vegemite on toast...