While judging the International Dutch Oven Society's World Championship two weeks ago, I met Saffron Hodgson, who was representing Australia and the state of Washington in the cook-off. She and her son gave me a sample packet of Vegemite, which says “proudly made in Australia since 1923.” I stuck in my purse and forgot about it until tonight as I was rummaging around for my checkbook and pulled out the packet.
If you were around in the ‘80s, you might remember the Australian band, Men At Work, singing “I come from the land down under....” Somewhere in that song, there’s a line, “He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich.” (For those of you who thought it was “a bit of my sandwich”.... you were wrong.)
So what is it? It’s a dark brown paste made from yeast extract. It reminds me of brown engine grease in looks and sticky consistency. It smells and tastes somewhere between yeast and a beef bouillon cube. In Australia, it’s used to spread on toast, sandwiches and crackers as you would butter. The British have a similar spread, “Marmite.”
I've heard that Marmite and Vegemite were developed as an alternative to butter. (What, they couldn't be content with margarine?) “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Vegemite” doesn't have the same ring to it. I imagine it’s one of those acquired tastes that grows on you, such as the pungent flavors of olives or capers. Bit for now, I'll leave Vegemite to the Australians.