Australian travellers throw a jar (or in recent years a plastic tube) of it in their suitcases and backpacks. Expat Aussies hunt it down at specialist food shops. It is the taste of “home”.
For 90 years – tomorrow – Australians have been eating Vegemite. The black yeast-based spread holds a special place in most Australians’ hearts and kitchen cupboards. It’s incomprehensible to outsiders, the first taste usually greeted with screwed up faces as the unusual flavour hits home. It’s very salty, a little bit malty and slightly bitter. Not necessarily delicious to the uninitiated.
But Aussies love it. Mostly, Aussie children are introduced to Vegemite at an early age, on fingers of toast. Then there are Vegemite sandwiches for school lunches (sometimes with cheese).
In 1923, with a public competition to name it, Vegemite was developed as a local competitor to the English spread Marmite. After a slow start to sales, by the early 1940s, Vegemite had become a staple food in Australian diets.
In 1954, a trio of cheery children burst into song on radio to a catchy jingle called “Happy Little Vegemites”. Two years later, the infectious song was used in a television advertising campaign, which continued off and on until the late 1960s. In the early 1980s the original commercials, re-mastered and colourised, were broadcast to a new generation – and the song is widely regarded as more popular than the national anthem. Ask any Australian to sing it, and they will – with gusto! And the phrase “happy little Vegemite” has entered the vernacular. Who’s a happy little Vegemite? I’m a happy little Vegemite! That makes me a happy little Vegemite! You get the idea. The commercial was brought out again in 2010.
More than 22 million jars of Vegemite are sold every year (about one for every person in the country), produced in a factory in Port Melbourne (but now owned by the American company Kraft Foods). By 2008, more than a billion jars had been sold. Everyone has their own special way of eating Vegemite, not limited to its traditional use as a spread on bread or toast. It’s used to give flavour to soups, casseroles and many other dishes. Another product – Vegemite Cheesybite (combining Vegemite and cream cheese), launched in 2009 – has not taken hold of our hearts so firmly but offers a different option. Personally, I’ve never been tempted to try it.
To mark its 90th birthday, Vegemite is donating a jar of Vegemite to Foodbank for every ‘like’ received during October on the Vegemite Facebook page (up to 90,000 jars). The donation is part of Vegemite’s ongoing partnership with Foodbank, Australia’s largest food relief agency, designed to help thousands of disadvantaged families.
I’m a bit of a traditionalist – but would love to hear how you might use Vegemite. Anyone got outlandish combinations to share?
This is not a sponsored post.