It is not every day that a spread turns it into songs of world hits. Vegemite was successful in this. “He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich,” says the Men at Work band’s Australian anthem “Down Under”.
The song is a declaration of love for the fifth continent and one of its most iconic foods. Because most “Australians” are very fond of the black-brown paste, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. Elsewhere, excitement causes confusion.
People in Australia Vegemite. love to
Salty, salty and even slightly bitter, Vegemite settles in the mouth with its thick texture. Characteristic of the Red Continent, such as Kangaroos, Outback or Kylie Minogue. “People have a love affair with Vegemite – and even if you don’t like it, you still love it,” says Jamie Callister of the German Press Agency!
His grandfather, Cyril Percy Callister, developed Vegemite in 1922. Ten years ago, the 62-year-old published a book about his grandfather and his invention: » The Man Who Invented Vegemite: The True Story Behind an Australian Icon«.
The start wasn’t easy: » When it first rolled off the assembly line, it was a complete flop. Even the head clerk couldn’t stand the smell, let alone the taste, says Jamie Callister. Many non-Australians trying Vegemite for the first time feel the same way. With one exception: the British are equally proud of their Vegemite predecessor, the Marmite. Both spreads are extracts of brewer’s yeast and taste similar.
Australians have only slowly discovered their love for the spread, which is today advertised with the slogan “Tastes like Australia”. When Cyril Callister developed Vegemite for the Fred Walker Company in 1922, he was later involved in another product that was revolutionary at the time: processed cheese. » As Vegemite dwindled, the popularity of cheese grew – and so did Vegemite getting a foot in the door. Otherwise it probably would have gone down, ”says the grandson.
does not need to be refrigerated
A marketing trick eventually saved the spread: The Fred Walker Company offered a small glass of Vegemite for free with every processed cheese sold. And since the 1930s was also marked by the global economic crisis in Australia, people lived frugally and did not waste food. Another advantage: Neither processed cheese nor Vegemite need to be refrigerated—and refrigerators only became popular “down under” in the 1950s.
Vegemite’s exact recipe is a closely guarded secret. One thing is certain: it is made from the yeast that remains after brewing beer. It contains malt, salt, vegetable extracts, and especially a large number of B vitamins, which are not only good for the brain but also reduce fatigue, stress and the risk of heart disease. Anyone who is pregnant or wants to become pregnant should also use Vegemite: Vitamin B3 contributes to the healthy development of the fetus and has been proven to reduce miscarriages and birth defects.
It was precisely these health aspects that ensured that Vegemite was officially recommended by the British Medical Association and other medical professionals in 1939. The Australian military also relied on Vegemite during World War II and bought spreads in such large quantities that sometimes only one glass per head could be sold in supermarkets.
Vegemite’s path from a pungent-smelling flop to a beloved product was complete: in 1942, 20 years after its development, the product could be found in most Australian pantries. A successful advertising campaign in the 1950s led to the jingle “Happy Little Vegemites”, making the product even more popular. Some call this song the second unofficial national anthem of Australia.
The spread comes with you on vacation
Today Australians also take their beloved Vegemite with them on vacation. Politicians also like to keep it in their luggage, such as the then Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd on a 2011 visit to the USA. At the airport, he then had to convince US security officials that dark paste was not dangerous.
“Everyone has their own “Vegemite story,” says Callister. And how is the paste eaten? She herself relies on a slice of freshly sourdough bread with butter and Vegemite. But there are Vegemite cheesecakes or Vegemite crust on the Internet There are also recipes for roast pork. Some restaurants also offer Vegemite fried chicken, Vegemite ice cream and Vegemite martinis.
Just in time for the 100th anniversary, a small pop-up museum has opened in Beaufort, the birthplace of Cyril Callister. Here visitors can immerse themselves in the history of Vegemite and the life of the inventor. “The interest is great,” said Liza Robinson of the German Press Agency. She is the executive secretary of the Cyril Callister Foundation, founded by her grandson in 2019.
“When visitors come to the museum, they tell their own Vegemite stories,” says Liza Robinson. » Then it’s either about the grandmother who gave him Vegemite as a child, or about the parents and lunch. And they are very passionate about it! People don’t talk about any other food like Vegemite.«
To give the spread a permanent home in Australia, the Foundation plans to set up a permanent museum and café featuring Vegemite creations – a gathering place for all fans of the yeast extract. As Jamie Callister says, “Vegemite isn’t just my story, it’s our story.”