Vegemite celebrated its 80th birthday in 2003 - and the jingle first used in 1954 "We're happy little vegemites...we're bright as bright can be.. " was contemporised for radio and television to celebrate. It graces the cupboards and tables of almost every Australian home. 22 million jars of this spread is sold in Australia annually - and it remains the world's richest food source of Vitamin B.
Vegemite was developed by Fred Walker's Kraft Foods company, when he employed Cyril Callister - Australia's leading food technologist in the 20's and 30's. The aim was to develop a spread from brewer's yeast, the richest source of Vitamin B known then, and to this day.
Vegemite was first marketed as Parwill, as a direct competitor to Marmite. It was not widely accepted for years, and, in 1935, a 2 year coupon giveaway programme was started - where a jar of Vegemite was given away with every Australian product purchase. Expensive, yes, but after 2 years, the product had become accepted and very popular. It came to be recommended by doctors as a vital source of Vitamin B, after extensive tests on the nutritional value.
Vegemite was named after an innovative competition for that time, where the public were asked to name it, and a 50 pound prize was awarded. Regrettably, the name of the winner(s) is lost in history.
It took 14 years of perseverence to gain acceptance of Vegemite in Australia. Most people around the world are put off by the look and smell of it, but those of us who have grown up with Vegemite, eat it almost daily as a spread on bread, toast, crackers, put it with cheese, lettuce and even peanut butter (or paste to us in Oz!), use it in gravies, casseroles and soups. I even have a Vegemite drink - mix in hot water when I am dehydrated or unwell. Always take a tube to Asia, and especially useful when I have a whatever "belly".
Vegemite is part of Australian history, and probably our best known food - give it a try if you are visiting from another country. Use it sparingly, and you might even like it!
I still can't put my finger on why I love Vegemite. Maybe growing up on it helps!
Each day at work I have at least 2 slices of toast with margarine & Vegemite. As Vegemite is very salty (& definately savoury not sweet), I use about 3 times as much margarine as Vegemite. I find a very fine spread of Vegemite best, or else the taste is too overpowering.
If trying Vegemite for the first time, either try a very small, thinly spread amount on bread, toast or a savoury biscuit/cracker. Then if you like it, experiment with the ideal amount for you. Vegemite is definately a very individual thing!
Cultural Icon Number Two: VEGEMITE
I may be one of the very few Australians that doesn't like vegemite (sorry!). It is a spread (ingredients top secret and unknown - we do know it contains yeast and Vitamin B)that can be spread on bread or crackers, by itself or with cheese or honey. I know that many Japanese people have been fooled into thinking it tastes like chocolate because of its brown colour - don't be fooled! For more vegemite information go to http://www.vegemite.com.au/