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.
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.