Our national delicacy

If there’s one food that’s uniquely Australian, it would have to be Vegemite.

It has the wonderful advertisement that gave us all a way to describe children who are full of laughter and joy:

Can you guess the saying? That’s right: happy little vegemites. It’s also used in a slightly derogatory way by unpleasant people who think they’re keeping their underlings happy. Teachers sometimes use it in the staffroom, too.

Invented just after World War 1, Vegemite is  a yeast product loaded with salt and vitamin B. We all grew up on it. Feeling sick? Vegemite toast. Want a light breakfast? Vegemite toast. A snack for school? Vegemite on Sao biscuits (something like Graham crackers). A packed lunch? Vegemite sandwich. A snack for after school? Vegemite on Sao biscuits. Late night supper? … Well, you get the idea.

My migrant father couldn’t stand it. Our migrant and visiting friends can’t even go near the smell. It’s one of those acquired tastes you need to grow up with to acquire.

This American Foodie uses it in small amounts as a source of umami in some of his cooking. We use it as a replacement for soy sauce when we want he-who-can’t-eat-soy to share the meal, which is most of the time since he lives here. It’s also the secret ingredient in more than a few old-fashioned gravies.

It’s so Australian that singer-songwriter John Williamson included it in a song called True Blue (an Australian expression meaning ‘yes, really’ or ‘genuine’—it loses something in the translation). Well, until it was in his song until he realised we’d sold it off to Kraft decades ago. He described it as selling us out like sponge cakes, and changed the song. It’s a bit country for my taste, but a lot of people love it.

And this is where the story changes. Kraft bought our icon, probably before it even was an icon, and left it alone for decades. Someone, maybe a recent marketing graduate, decided that more marketing was needed: so they added cheese spread into a new product called iSnack2.0. It lasted 4 days before public ridicule forced a retraction. (It’s now marketed as Cheesymite.) More recently, Kraft changed the recipe of Vegemite itself: they introduced wheat into the production line.

The Depression and World War 2 generation don’t seem to like that change at all. They prefer Dick Smith’s Ozemite (made in Australia) or even the Aldi copycat Brekky Mite (imported). Like the original Vegemite, you can’t eat Ozemite by the spoonful, and most of the older generation say it tastes closer to how they remember it from their childhood days. It also has the advantage of being gluten free.

Choose your ingredients. The new Vegemite is made on wheat AND barley. Ozemite is made on corn. so it's gluten-free. Brekky Mite has no wheat, but it finds some other ingredients to add.

Choose your ingredients. The new Vegemite is made on wheat AND barley. Ozemite is made on corn. so it’s gluten-free. Brekky Mite has no wheat, but it finds some other ingredients to add.

My kids don’t mind the change: it doesn’t bother them either way. They can eat the new stuff by the spoonful, straight out of the jar. You could never do that with the original. I can taste the change, but I can live with it. And it’s still made in Australia.

Choose your vegemite: Vegemite, Ozemite, Brekkie Mite and, on the far left, the ill-fated iSnack2.0

Choose your vegemite: Vegemite, Ozemite, Brekkie Mite and, on the far left, the ill-fated iSnack2.0

 

Advertisements

11 thoughts on “Our national delicacy

  1. Such an interesting post! I love history and culture and found this fascinating. I feel like I have tasted Vegemite at some point as a kid. I don’t think I liked it. I’m wondering where this product falls in terms of a whole food or processed product? I can see now how, as an adult, I would find it adding a depth of flavor to dishes.

    Like

    • You are very generous, but it’s almost certain that you still wouldn’t like it now. I’ve never met someone who grew up outside Australia and liked this stuff. That said, maybe you could be a first! Just be aware that the locals have it only as a very thin scraping across the top of bread or similar.

      It’s most definitely a processed food. It took them a decade (in the 1920s) to find a taste that people would buy.

      Like

  2. Alas UK do not have these (well not on my High St Anyho!). I did try vegemite once, I love it so much. I think Brekkie mite would be even nicer. Ah well, enjoy this selection for me 😉

    Like

    • You like vegemite? Well done. I’m so impressed.

      I think you have marmite or promite over there. It’s not the same, though.

      I have to admit to a slice of vegemite toast before a long drive last night. It’s pretty good stuff.

      Like

  3. Marmite evey time. We can get Vegemite but it’s a bit paler and doesn’t have that tongue-curling sharpness you get from Marmite. Over here the advert goes ‘Love it or hate it’, or something like that!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s