One of Australia’s most beloved and maligned foods, to say that Vegemite is divisive would be a massive understatement.
In its home nation, there seems to be an equal amount of people with Vegemite tattoos as there are people who will gag at the mere thought of it, and when you taste this incredibly powerful extract, you’ll understand why.
As it’s so potent, Vegemite is the kind of thing you need to know a bit about before you dig in, as trying too much right off the bat can sour you on it for life, while getting the application just right can instigate an endless culinary romance.
So, without further ado, let’s pop the infamous yellow cap and do a deep dive on the flavor and composition of Vegemite.
Just What The Heck Is Vegemite Anyway?
Looking like something between Nutella and the residue left behind after a tire fire, Vegemite is a challenging prospect for diners as soon as they lay eyes on it. Its principal ingredient is brewer’s yeast extract.
And yes, that means it’s mostly a byproduct of the beer-brewing process — An excellent way to reduce waste. Seasoning and concentrated onion, malt, and celery extracts add the finishing touches to this controversial treat.
In terms of nutritional value, it’s jam-packed with B vitamins 1, 2, 3, & 9, and contains quite a bit of protein too — We’re talking 1.3 grams per teaspoon. But even a teaspoon of Vegemite is far too much for novice snackers!
Okay, But What Is Yeast Extract?
Yeast extract is made of partially deconstructed yeast cells — The cell contents without any of the cell walls. Structurally speaking, you can think of it like egg yolk without the whites.
While it’s most famously used in Vegemite (and Marmite, but more on this later), it’s a remarkably versatile ingredient found in many foods, including crackers, gravy stock, and various packaged and frozen foods.
Tasting Vegemite: What To Expect?
You know that lovely umami soy sauce flavor? Well, Vegemite tastes a little like that, but on steroids, with a punchy bitterness on the back that takes many by surprise during their first dance with this dark and dangerous spread.
You’ll also pick up a robust malty-ness that, combined with the vegetable extracts, forms a similar flavor profile to beef bouillon.
Advanced pallets may identify a bready undertone derived from the yeast. Others remark on its subtle connections to blue cheese, which also contains lots of yeast.
As Vegemite hits the tongue and shocks your taste buds into action, a powerful sweetness is the most prominent element, but remember, that bitter backend is waiting to sucker punch you once you’re lulled into a false sense of security.
But perhaps the most consistent aspect of Vegemite’s flavor profile is the saltiness. Although tasting Vegemite is a journey, salt is ever present along the way.
Texture-wise, think peanut butter meets tar. It’s super thick and remarkably hard to spread for a, well… spread. Heating it can loosen things up a bit, though.
How Should You Eat Vegemite?
Besides taking it easy at first, there are no hard, fast rules to eating Vegemite. As it contains salty, sweet, and bitter elements, it shares synergistic relationships with a plethora of different foods.
That said, the most common way of consuming Vegemite is on toast with a generous amount of butter. Typically, only a very light layer of Vegemite is applied to the bread, adding a satisfying umami taste to the butter.
However, the longer you eat Vegemite, the more you’ll be able to handle on your toast — It’s sort of like spice in this regard.
If it so happens that you enjoy Vegemite on toast, we’d highly recommend throwing some cheese on top and placing it under the grill for a few seconds. See, bread, butter, cheese, and Vegemite are the very best of foodie friends!
A delight with soft-boiled eggs, it’s a pretty good breakfast spread, but it’s by no means restricted to morning eats. Hearty stews – whether meat or vegetable-based – are a shoo-in for Vegemite.
If you want a quick and immensely satisfying bite, try stirring some into buttered pasta. You can add more than you would on toast in this scenario, as it will be spread across a greater surface area.
It’s also a dynamite way of kicking the flavor of a bolognese sauce up a few notches, and a cheese sauce is always better with a small teaspoon of Vegemite mixed in as well. Vegemite sandwiches can be divine, but, again, you’ll need to start with a very thin spread.
In fact, perhaps you’re better off dabbing your bread with Vegemite rather than actually spreading it. What sandwiches, you ask? Well, whatever really — Bacon, BLT, cheese, tomato, ham, chicken… you name it.
Is Vegemite Healthy?
In moderation, Vegemite is indeed healthy. As mentioned earlier, it contains some essential B vitamins and is known to slightly reduce the risk of birth disabilities when pregnant, keep migraines at bay, and reduce cholesterol.
It’s even been utilized in alcohol dependency programs! But it’s not all good news from a health standpoint. Vegemite is insanely salty, with one teaspoon containing 5% of your entire day’s allowance.
Eating too much of it can be detrimental to heart health and can negatively impact blood pressure.
How Does Vegemite Differ From Marmite?
Inspired by Britain’s very own polarizing spread, Marmite, Vegemite shares a lot in common with its prototype, but there are some differences to note. Vegemite is significantly more viscous than Marmite, and it’s darker too, nearing black but not quite.
And while there definitely is a bitterness to Marmite, Vegemite’s bitterness is more intense. What’s more, Vegemite is nowhere near as smooth as Marmite, and the addition of vegetable extracts and spices gives it a richer, more full-bodied and nuanced flavor profile.
It’s also much stickier than the already unfathomably sticky Marmite, so be sure not to drizzle anywhere it’s not supposed to be.
The health benefits of Vegemite and Marmite diverge too, with Marmite focusing almost exclusively on B12, which is why it’s so popular amongst our vegan friends across the pond.
What Does Vegemite Smell Like?
Vegemite smells a bit like soy sauce, but it’s also distinct. It’s much meatier, with hints of both beef and chicken stock. Some might say there’s a subtle sulfuric note in the scent as well.
When breaking down the constituent parts of Vegemite in a laboratory environment, it was found to contain cis-9-hexadecenoic acid, a chemical related to what has been described as “old-person smell.”
Don’t worry, though; your Vegemite won’t smell like your great grandma’s house. The way in which the compounds converge alters their olfactory impact, with some elements becoming completely lost in the process, and this is one of them — Phew!
Can You Buy Vegemite In The US?
98% of Vegemite is sold in Australia. It’s something of a rarity elsewhere in the world, but it can be found in the US; you just have to look in the right places:
- Stores with imported foods — Almost any store that has an imported foods section will probably have some Vegemite for sale. Walmart typically has plenty on its shelves, as does World Market.
- Online — Online marketplaces are a great way to find foods that aren’t American staples, with Amazon being one of the best if you’re hoping to pick up some authentic Vegemite for a good price.
In summary, Vegemite has a robust umami flavor. It’s as salty as the day is long, with a sweetness on the front end, and a punchy bitterness on the back.
Eat too much in one mouthful, and it will inevitably taste horrific — Some good advice for those thinking about giving Vegemite a go… Treat it like a wasabi or an English mustard.
You wouldn’t gulp down spoonfuls of these incredibly concentrated sauces, and nor should you do so with Vegemite. Try a little with some buttered toast, then take it from there.