Vegemite And Marmite: A Beginner's Guide

For those who didn't grow up with it, the first taste of Vegemite, the Australian yeast extract, or Marmite, its British cousin, is also the first experience with the term "acquired taste." It's rich, salty, full of umami, and at first taste, one of the most disgusting things most Americans have ever tried. But nearly 23 million containers of Vegemite are sold in Australia every year, so what's the story behind this highly localized product?

Marmite was invented in the late 1800s, and Vegemite followed in the 1920s. Both products are made via a complex method in which salt is added to a suspension of yeast and then heated, resulting in a rich paste loaded with free glutamic acids, also known as umami (it's the primary component of MSG). The exact recipe is a secret, but various vegetable extracts and vitamins are also added. The resulting product is very rich in thiamin, folate, riboflavin, niacin, iron, and vitamin B12, so is basically a superfood.

Marmite and Vegemite are definitely divisive food products. For those accustomed to sweet spreads for your toast (as most Americans are), the first taste of Vegemite can be a shock to the system. But give it another shot, and do it like the Aussies do: Spread toast with a liberal amount of butter, and then top with a very thin layer of Vegemite. Get rid of preconceived notions of what toast should taste like, and realize that umami-rich foods are delicious by definition. Getting that first taste of travel, there's a whole world of local flavors to try.