Vegemite is considered as much a part of Australia’s heritage as kangaroos and the Holden cars. It is actually an Australian obsession that has become a unique and loved symbol of the Australian nation.
A Vegemite sandwich to an Australian kid is the equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to an American kid – but the taste is QUITE different!
Vegemite is one of several yeast extract spreads sold in Australia. It is made from leftover brewers’ yeast extract (a by-product of beer manufacture) and various vegetable and spice additives. It is very dark reddish-brown, almost black, in color, and one of the richest sources known of Vitamin B. It is thick like peanut butter, it is very salty, and it tastes like – well let’s just say that it is an acquired taste!
Australian children are brought up on Vegemite from the time they are babies. It is said that Australians are known to travel all over the world with at least one small jar of Vegemite in their luggage, for fear that they will not be able to find it.
In 1922, Fred Walker (1884-1935) of Melbourne, Australia decided to try to make a special “yeast extract” that would be as delicious as it was nourishing for his Fred Walker Cheese Company to sell. The chief scientist in the company Fred owned was Dr. Cyril P. Callister, and it was Dr. Callister who invented the first Vegemite spread. He used brewer’s yeast and blended the yeast extract with ingredients like celery, onion, salt, and a few secret ingredients to make this paste.
In 1924, a national competition and a prize of 50 pounds was offered to the winner or winners to name the new product. The name ‘Vegemite’ was finally chosen from the entries by Fred’s daughter Sheilah.