Food Science

What the Heck is Vegemite (& How Do You Eat It)?

Get to know the savory spread.

January  7, 2021
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Cut off from the rest of the populated landmass of planet Earth for several millennia, Australia had plenty of time to develop some natural quirks. Take marsupials (pouches, hopping), for example, or the duck-billed platypus (duck-bill, poison spur), or the disturbing preponderance of poisonous snakes, for example. But it was with the invention of Vegemite in 1922 that things really went off the rails. What is Vegemite? So glad you asked.

Vegemite is a thick, dark spread extracted from the yeasty waste of the beer-brewing process, seasoned with celery, onion, salt, and some undisclosed extra flavors. Salty, umami-rich, with a hint of bitterness, Vegemite is an Australian obsession. But it wasn’t always this way.

The history of Vegemite

Our story begins with a crisis. German U-boat attacks and the turmoil of WWI disrupted the steady import of Marmite, an incredibly popular British yeast spread, into Australia. Desperate for a replacement, Australian food company Fred Walker & Co. turned to its chief scientist, Dr. Cyril Callister, for help. Over the course of several months, Callister transformed a primordial brewer’s yeast sludge into a savory spread, thicker than Marmite and with a comparable, but uniquely alluring (to some) flavor. But Vegemite was not met with the adulation Dr. Callister had hoped. When Marmite imports stabilized, many Aussies returned to the more familiar product.

In 1928, in an attempt at revitalizing the brand, Fred Walker & Co. changed the name of the spread to Parwill, a clever (they thought) set-up for ads that declared, in a heavily Australian accent, “if Marmite, then Parwill!” But alas, Par-would-not. With the Vegemite name restored, Walker decided to lean on the success of his new venture, the Kraft Walker Cheese Co. (yes, that Kraft). Jars of Vegemite were given free with the purchase of Kraft products, finally—even if only because it was of no cost and plentiful—establishing the brand in Australian homes and hearts.

How to Vegemite

The greatest threat to your future love of Vegemite is reckless over-enthusiasm. Though it may look spoonable, like a dark chocolate Nutella, Vegemite is most commonly scraped over well-buttered toast, just a dab per slice. Where a thick slather would overpower your taste buds, a proper scrape gives the right balance of rounded umami that melds with the rich butter. That said, once you’re comfortable with the stuff, the sky is the limit. Fans have been known to mix Vegemite with water to form a hearty broth, or even to season steak tartare.

Vegemite Substitutes

We’ve already suffered through a catastrophic bucatini shortage, not to mention flour and yeast deficits; should Vegemite, too, go missing from the shelves, there are plenty of alternatives.

Marmite

Thinner in consistency and slightly sweeter in taste, Marmite is nevertheless the closest substitute for Vegemite. Spread it on toast as you would Vegemite or rub it on chicken.

Other yeast extract spreads

Swiss Cenovis, New Zealand Marmite (different from the English product), Australian Promite, and OzEmite are some of the many other yeast extract spreads produced around the world with a roughly similar consistency and flavor profile.

Miso

Another rich, salty, spreadable product bursting with umami, miso is unmistakably not Vegemite. But it still makes for a savory substitute spread on toast with a bit of butter. Go for a darker, more aged miso to get the most powerful salt and umami kick.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“This Australian is shocked by your cover pic! Why is the vegemite dripping down the toast in your pic? Don't water it down, just spread that baby straight from the jar. And pop some avo on top. Delish. (Srsly do not make it watery and put it on toast). ”
— hannahblelector
Comment

Though it’s unlikely you’ll ever find yourself standing in the kitchen eating Vegemite by the spoonful (that’s what peanut butter was made for), if you really fall for it, you may find yourself scrambling for the last jar on the grocery shelf, toilet paper be damned.

How do you like to eat Vegemite? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sam Sontag
    Sam Sontag
  • Les Hall
    Les Hall
  • janet voris
    janet voris
  • Byron
    Byron
  • Linda Peek
    Linda Peek
Sam is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Find more of his work at arecipefordisaster.org.

19 Comments

Author Comment
Sam S. January 18, 2021
To all concerned: I can confirm this is a picture of Bovril. Rest assured, I am on team Vegemite.
 
Les H. January 18, 2021
Millions of British, and probably Antipodean, babies were raised eating Marmite Soldiers served with a soft-boiled egg.

Butter toast and 'scrape' Marmite on it. Slice toast into fingers (soldiers) about 1" wide. Crack open soft-boiled egg and dip the 'soldiers' into the runny yolk, stuff in mouth and enjoy.

Of course, not just for babies.
 
janet V. January 18, 2021
As an American with an Eastern European heritage I know almost nothing about Vegemite. Your article was delightfully informative. I would have liked to see a pic of its customary usage and perhaps of the product container itself.
 
Byron January 18, 2021
Here is a great savoury breakfast...a slice of buttered toast with a thin smear of vegemite, (not too much is the key) top this with a soft (vinegar) poached egg and a sprinkle of black pepper on the egg. It's nice with the runny yolk, eating with a knife and fork, the flavours are complimentary.
 
Linda P. January 17, 2021
It doesn't look like Vegemite in the photo. More like chocolate sauce! But if it is supposed to be Vegemite you never spread it that thickly. Just a smidgen is enough.
 
Cecilia M. January 17, 2021
That is Borvil in the picture! Decidedly not Vegemite and NOT vegetarian.
Please fix!

 
Pam January 17, 2021
Are you basing your comment on the appearance of the substance or on the bottle in the background? I can’t comment on former, but you have to look hard to see the Bovril bottle of which only the bottom of the jar is visible. It’s peripheral to the focus of the photo as is a Colman’s mustard can. There are several other plates of food in the scene but are not the focus of the article. Perhaps one of those is the Bovril culprit? Or perhaps this was styled as a multi-use photo to illustrate out-of-the-ordinary Aussie/Brit foods and the Vegemite jar is simply not shown? I think you’re being hard on Food52 when there are other interpretations.
 
/anne... January 17, 2021
Although I'm a fifth generation Australian, I never did like Vegemite; however I do love the Marmite that is now made in NZ; it's always been made by Sanitation, but I think it used to be made here too. I will never forget the Year Without Marmite - it's made in Christchurch, and the factory was damaged in the earthquake. I bought small jars of all the other similar spreads, but I couldn't stand any of them. Best with butter (not margarine) on a hot piece of lightly toasted bread. Yum!
 
carswell January 13, 2021
I am a Marmite girl from way back. Love the stuff so much that I brought two 500ml jars back from a holiday in Britain. Up here in the great white North it’s hard to get your hands on anything but the 125ml jars.

I have never tasted Vegemite but I hear that those who like one don’t care for the other. I’ve never seen it for sale here so I suppose I may never know.
 
Zoe January 13, 2021
Lèse-majesté!!! 🤣 Fix that photo quick - all you need to do is to go to the Vegemite Instagram photos for real Vegemite.
 
Harvey S. January 12, 2021
That's not Vegemite in the photograph. NOBODY LISTEN TO THIS WEBSITE its content-farm writers are writing about subjects they DON'T EVEN HAVE ANY EXPERIENCE WITH.
 
Sam1148 January 10, 2021
Well for one thing you do NOT make a swimming pool of it on the toast. You do a light wispy coating.
 
Robinenvole January 8, 2021
Except the photo shows Bovril, even a Bovril jar. Vegemite is not as unctuous as that.
 
Laura T. January 8, 2021
As hannahbelector said, dear god man CHANGE THAT COVER PHOTO. Unless you want people to buy the Vegemite and then chuck it out, that is NOT how you do it. Are you trying to hoard all the Vegemite for yourself? Bloody hell, mate
 
Penelope G. January 7, 2021
Good god! The food stylist for that photo needs to be forced to eat that toast. (Not that the product pictured is Vegemite, which isn't viscous enough to drip.) I need a glass of water just looking at that.

One does not pour Vegemite. One avoids spreading Vegemite. The correct, unappetising verb is 'scrape' (as I see you have yourself used in the piece; unfortunately the stylist didn't get properly briefed). The photo for your Marmite article is much more like it.

That said, you can get away with very thinly spreading Vegemite since Kraft bought the brand, as it has been significantly diluted and made thinner and easier to apply. When I was a kid a jar of Vegemite lasted forever because anything more than the merest hint of the stuff was caustic. It tore anything but the most sturdy bread; it shattered Saladas unless applied by an expert. When it was just right, it was delightful.
 
Laura T. January 8, 2021
Ooof a shattered Salada, I had a visceral reaction of sadness to that!
 
Claire January 8, 2021
I had forgotten about those things! It was always a ninja move to get your vegie on the salada without breakage!
 
hannahblelector January 7, 2021
This Australian is shocked by your cover pic! Why is the vegemite dripping down the toast in your pic? Don't water it down, just spread that baby straight from the jar.

And pop some avo on top. Delish. (Srsly do not make it watery and put it on toast).
 
Linda P. January 17, 2021
Looks more like chocolate sauce doesn't it?