It may come as a surprised but I have never sampled the Austrailian delicacy known as Vegemite until today. Often the topic of American stabs at Australian culture through movies and music, I actually knew very little about the stuff, not to mention its taste. That is, until a pair of co-workers from Australia and South African began discussing the stuff.
Apparently, Vegemite is the home-grown version of the English variety known as Marmite. Essentially both are a yeast extract paste, dark brown in color about the consistency of very thick peanut butter. Before you let that description turn you off, you might take a moment to reflect on exactly what eggs, cheese and gelatin really are (I’ll be graphic below, if you insist*).
It is a natural by-product from brewer’s yeast. The by-products of fermentation: yeast, barm, or leaven. A German chemist named Liebig discovered that the waste of yeast used in brewing beer could be self-digested and made into a concentrate, resulting in a protein-rich paste with a more or less meaty flavor. By adding salt to the waste-product produced by the yeast in the brewing process, thus rupturing the yeast cells by osmotic pressure and then concentrating the resulting sludge.
Preferred methods of consumption include spreading on toast or crackers but usage in broth, gravy and stews are also common. Its remarkably high in Vitamin B and early marketing from the 1920s capitalized on its nutritional value. Vegemite has an incredible shelf life and enjoyed popularity among Australian soldiers during World War II.
After a bit of convincing, I finally sampled a small amount plain (no toast was at hand) and was not repelled as I feared I might be. To me it tastes like beef stock, although its perfectly vegetarian. I can see it used in moderation on crackers or a heavy toast and certainly can imagine it as a broth base.
I’m not personally familiar with Vegemite’s precursor, Marmite for a comparison but I’m firmly told the differences are obvious to the Anglic palate, many of which imbibe the stuff from pregnancy to old age.
* Eggs are unfertilized chicken ovum, cheese is rotten milk and gelatin is denaturation of collagen, isolated from animal skin, hooves and bones.