Lisa Hamilton explores her people’s love (or hate) of the legendary condiment known as Vegemite.
Hands up those who have never eaten a Vegemite worm.
If you’ve never had the hankering to squish two thickly spread, perforated wheat crackers together until little dark wiggly worms of leftover brewer’s yeast squirt up through the holes you’re not alone. In fact, you may be among the vast many that would rather be tied to an ant hill.
There are few other food stuffs that evoke such a range of opinion as Australia’s own Vegemite. An icon in Aussie culture that even flag waving patriots have been known to rant un-pleasantries about. I decided the only way to determine true feelings about Vegemite was to either ply a few people with alcohol or a good dose of sodium pentothal, subject them to the conversation out of nowhere, and await a truthful spontaneous response. I was sadly out of both serums, but happily didn’t need them. Uttering the V word in a room of unsuspecting targets was all it took.
“I hate that crap,” said one.
“The most disgusting concoction ever produced,” agreed another.
Oh dear! You‘d have thought I uttered some form of vulgar blasphemy, or worse – told a bunch of kids there’s no Santa.
It was the negative responses that shocked me the most. For the sake of this story, let’s call them the Haters. There are quite a few Haters around which really surprised me. I thought everyone, like myself, LOVED the stuff.
“Vegemite is comfort food at its best,” said one fellow devotee.
Seriously, the reaction was tangible with both sides confused at the other’s opposing evaluation. Some eyes widened with comforting childhood memories at the mention of it, whilst others squinted with disgust at any declaration of love for this sticky black mass. No matter how you feel about this much maligned product, Vegemite evokes emotional responses unlike any other condiment. It is either loved or loathed; there are no in-betweens. The opinions about Vegemite were clearly as diverse as the way it’s used — from light scraping on toast to a spoonful scooped out of the jar and savoured with true commitment. After doing some preliminary research, I discovered that the like/ dislike ratio of Vegemite is about 60:40, on the side of the completely devoted — who we will call the Disciples.
So what is this food that compels such emotion?
What is Vegemite?
Vegemite is essentially a condiment made from leftover brewer’s yeast combined with a few vegetable spice (hence the Vege) additions, including celery, and lots of salt. Salty, bitter, and malty, it tastes a little like beef bouillon. Though Vegemite is also a healthy spread, boasting one of the world’s richest consolidated sources of B Vitamins.
History of Vegemite
Vegemite was born in Australia in 1919, when the import of the popular British spread, Marmite, was disrupted due to WWI. So Fred Walker & Company gave themselves the responsibility to invent an alternative. Some poor sap from Melbourne was given the order to come up with a new condiment made from the seeping stockpiles of spent brewers yeast that were being expunged by the country’s breweries. Using a process known as autolysis, he broke down the yeast from the detritus of the Carlton and United brewery, added some salt, a little celery and onion extracts, and voila, came up with his very own mucusy black paste to unleash upon the population of Australia. A nationwide contest was then held to come up with the name of this new national condiment, and “Vegemite” was selected out of a hat.
For those of us who cannot bear to be separated, Vegemite travels quite well. Contrary to past reports, it is ok to take it to other destinations around the world. A word of advice though: If you feel you cannot leave home without its quasi-narcotic pleasures, please don’t be tempted to strap it to your body, as you may receive some unwanted attention in the airport. One thing that will certainly take the shine off your holiday excitement is a full cavity search by a Hater. You have been warned.