The untold truth of Vegemite

Vegemite is something you've probably heard of, and vaguely associate with Australia, but don't really know that much about it. So what is it, really?

Vegemite is a salty spread made from brewer's yeast. If this leaves you wondering what brewer's yeast is, it is an ingredient in the production of bread and beer. It has a bitter taste. Vegemite itself is a spread that is thick and black in appearance (via Healthline). So basically, it's thick, black, and salty. 

The spread is used in a way similar to preserves, peanut butter, or a condiment like mayonnaise or mustard, all rolled into one. It's spread on sandwiches, as well as toast or crackers. It's even used as a filling in pastries, so think of jelly doughnuts, pie filling, or turnovers.

Cyril Percy Callister created Vegemite in Melbourne in 1922. He was trying to create an alternative to British Marmite, and if this just gives you more questions, you're not alone. British Marmite is also a spread made from yeast. It is dark brown in appearance with a savory taste (via The Spruce Eats).

Vegemite gained its popularity during World War II as it was included in a soldier's rations. Platoons received 7-pound cans and mobile soldiers received 8-ounce cans (via What's Cooking America). This was likely because the British Medical Association promoted it as a health food in 1939, around the start of World War II, because it's a good source of vitamin B.

The varieties of Vegemite

Since World War II, the world of Vegemite has expanded, with new varieties, including Cheesybite, gluten-free, and two versions of reduced-sodium, providing the choice of 25 or 40 percent less salt.

Additionally, in 2017 Vegemite released a limited edition variety (only 450,000 were produced) called Blend 17. According to the Marketing Director for Vegemite, the 17 simply refers to the year it was released. The name Blend 17 is otherwise rather vague in description (via The New York Times).

The new packaging seemed to be the main selling point of Blend 17. The New York Times described the packaging: "Vegemite Blend 17 is sold in achingly artisanal packaging that includes an unnecessary cardboard box, a gold-colored lid and a price tag more than double that of a traditional jar, coming in at seven Australian dollars, or almost $5.50."

Australians didn't respond positively to Blend 17, with the majority of consumers stating that the taste was indistinguishable from regular Vegemite (via The New Daily).

Vegemite and the rest of the world

Regardless of Blend 17, Vegemite remains very popular in Australia. There are 22.7 million jars manufactured per year in Australia, which is the equivalent to 235 jars every minute. Nine out of 10 pantries in Australia contain Vegemite. However, it doesn't retain this level of popularity outside of Australia. For every 30 jars of Vegemite sold in Australia, only one is exported.

Given the information regarding the popularity, or lack thereof, of Vegemite outside of Australia, it is surprisingly owned by an American company. The founder of the company that developed Vegemite, Fred Walker, collaborated with James L. Kraft. They established Kraft Walker Cheese Co., which, after a few iterations, is Kraft Foods today (via Mental Floss).

The recipe for Vegemite is a secret, though the company says it hasn't changed since the original recipe.