What Is Vegemite?
Vegemite? It must be pretty potent if the only way they sell it is an that tiny jar. Let’s open one and find out.
By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen
Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.
You may have seen the iconic small brown jar with the neon yellow and red label and wondered, "what is Vegemite?". Or maybe you know the song "Down Under" by Men At Work (and if you don't, we'll have you know that a Vegemite sandwich features prominently). Here, we open the Vegemite jar to answer some key questions: what to use it for, where it comes from and why it’s so popular in Australia.
What Is Vegemite?
Vegemite is a thick, brown, shiny paste that is made from brewer's yeast, what’s left at the bottom of the barrel when beer is made. The spread has a rich umami flavor and is often smeared on buttered toast in Australia, or stirred into recipes to deepen savory notes.
How did Vegemite come to be? Vegemite's nearly identical twin, Marmite, used to be very popular in Australia, due to British immigrants bringing over their taste for the staple. During World War I, it was hard to get shipments of Marmite from England, and everyone missed it. A brewer in Australia wanted to monetize the byproducts of beer-making instead of just throwing them away, and he knew his fellow Australians needed a steady source of a marmite-like spread. He worked with a scientist who took the leftover brewers’ yeast and did some chemistry stuff to turn it into Australia's own version that was rich in Vitamin B. One great marketing campaign later, practically every Australian had tried it.
Today, Vegemite is a household staple that most people in Australia grow up with.
What Is the Difference Between Vegemite and Marmite?
True aficionados of Vegemite and Marmite report that Vegemite is more intense than Marmite. Vegimite is darker in color (it appears black in the bottle, revealing its dark brown color only when spread on toast or crackers), thick like a nut butter and more umami-forward. Marmite is lighter, a bit sweeter, more syrupy and easier to spread.
What Does Vegemite Taste Like?
Vegemite has a strong, salty, meaty-rich flavor (although there is no meat or meat byproduct in it). The flavor could be compared to a very intense tamari or soy sauce.
What Are the Ingredients In Vegemite?
In addition to brewer's yeast, vegemite contains concentrated extracts of onion, malt and celery. Vegemite also is made up of salt and several different types of Vitamin B (thiamin B1, riboflavin B2, niacin B3 and folate).
Is Vegemite Gluten-Free?
The original version does have wheat byproducts in it. However, late breaking news: the brand has figured out how to make a gluten-free version of Vegemite (simply by using gluten-free yeast). There isn’t a gluten-free Marmite, so Vegemite has cornered that market.
Is Vegemite Vegan?
Vegemite is completely vegetarian - and vegan! Good news, because its meaty flavor is a fantastic way to add depth to vegan dishes. Try incorporating it into vegan meatballs, burgers or sauces.
How To Use Vegemite
For starters, try it on toast with butter, but be mindful of its intensity. You’re not making a peanut butter sandwich. On warm toast, about 1/4 teaspoon should be perfect for your first taste.
Another way to use it is as a gravy or soup enhancer, or as a chef might say: “Add a bit of Vegemite to that shepherd’s pie to goose it up a bit”. A tiny bit will bring out more of the flavor you started with in a stew, chile or gravy because it adds a pure umami flavor.
One very helpful thing to know is that Vegemite has glutamate (also known as glutamic acid) that delivers the umami, and not MSG: they are two different things. Try it - you might like it.