The other morning, as I was spreading Vegemite on my toast like scores* of my fellow Americans, I took a closer look at the label and made a happy discovery: This year marks the centennial (or centenary**) of Vegemite yeast extract, as much an Australian national symbol as koalas and kangaroos. It’s a milestone that will be cheered by many of us and strenuously ignored by others.
“Proudly made in Australia since 1923”
To call Vegemite—a thick black paste made from brewer’s yeast—controversial is to put it mildly, and “mild” is a word you can never use with Vegemite. I happen to love the stuff, because I love anything that combines salty and umami flavors, but here in North America I find myself in a lonely minority. And it’s not just North Americans: Vegemite is one of three foods that represent Australia in the Disgusting Food Museum in Malmö, Sweden. (The others are wichetty grubs, which are insects; and musk sticks, which are a kind of perfume-y candy and are unassociated with the current owner of Twitter and other businesses.)
My photo of a jar of Vegemite at the pop-up Disgusting Food Museum in Los Angeles, January 2019. The last sentence on the card reads: “In 2011, President Obama angered Australians by saying that he found vegemite [sic] to be ‘horrible.” When Australian prime minister Julia Gillard described the product, Obama said, “So, it's like a quasi-vegetable by-product paste that you smear on your toast for breakfast – sounds good, doesn’t it?” Yes, Mr. Obama, it sounds good. And it’s good for you, too.
A little background to whet your appetite: