Saturday, November 14, 2009

Yeasty Drama (with Vitamin B!)

Ask any non-Aussie about Australia and they can almost certainly name at least two things about the country: kangaroos and Vegemite. And while I have disappointed many a person back in the States by telling them that, no, I don't see kangaroos everyday, Vegemite is nearly as ubiquitous here as foreigners think it is.

Every house has a jar or two, schools offer vegemite and cheese sandwiches for lunch, mums bring crackers with Vegemite as snacks to playgroup. As soon as babies can start gumming little bits of bread, they're given some with Vegemite on it. Rare is the person here who doesn't like it or doesn't eat it.

So what is it? Well, basically, it's yeast. And who doesn't enjoy a spoonful of delicious yeast? Come on, who's with me, guys? Vegemite is yeast extract leftover from the beer brewing process, and it's actually really good for you. It's got tons of Vitamin B and other good-for-you type stuff. It has the consistency of butter, but is a dark brown color. And if you've never tried it, it packs a punch! Don't make the mistake I did and put a dollop on your finger, like peanut butter. Yowza! It's a very salty, pungent taste. Since then, I've received several Vegemite tutorials. The overall consensus is to spread it thinly with a little butter.

And then, it's actually not too bad. I can see how people like it. But we don't eat it--I think it's something that you have to be raised with. I volunteer once a month in the canteen at Ava's school--where the lunches are prepared for students who order them. Every time I make a vegemite sandwich, I submit it for approval to one of the other (Aussie) moms. "Yeah, spread it a little thinner," she'll say, or "You need to put more butter." Apparently, I do not have the Vegemite intuition that others do. That's ok--cause in a PB&J-making contest, they are going down! I think we know who would own that situation.

For friends and guests, we keep a jar of Vegemite in our pantry, as well as a jar of Marmite. See, Marmite is also a yeasty spread made in New Zealand. There are Marmite people and there are Vegemite people. And they will passionately argue the merits of their favorite "ite". We are friends with both types. So Jason and I try to remain neutral. We are the Switzerland of the pungent yeasty spread battle.* Both are offered a place in our home. Hey, it's all yeast to me! (Get it? Get it? Never mind.)

Last week, Becky sent me a link to an article in the New York Times: "Vegemite Contest Draws Protests". " Have you heard about this?", she asked me. Kraft, who much to the consternation of many Aussies, owns Vegemite, recently launched a new variation. It's Vegemite mixed with cream cheese. To celebrate they launched a contest to name the new creation. We have a jar of the new stuff in our fridge. (Have I tried it? No.) Well, the winning name was announced with much fanfare: iSnack 2.0. I actually thought it was kinda cute. Kinda.

But no one else did. It unleashed vehement protests. Kraft was barraged with complaints, people called it "un-Australian", and stupid. Facebook groups were started--of course. You don't have a legitimate protest until you start a group on Facebook about it, you know. Someone needs to tell those Tibetan monks.

A few days later, Kraft said, "Um, never mind." And a few days after that, another name was picked: Cheesybite. And the nation was saved.

All this reminded me of the furor when New Coke came out in 1985. Good gosh, remember that? How enraged people were about it? There was, like, hatred. Over soda. My personal theory, since you asked, is that a lot of people are stressed out or anxious and have no outlet to express it. So when something like this comes along, it's like whoosh! Out of nowhere comes all this disproportionate anger. Oh well. These giant, multinational conglomerates can take it, I think. We're still buying their stuff, aren't we?

Well, that's another slice of life down here for you! I will try the Cheesybite and get back to you on how it tastes. It's my hope that our home can be a welcoming place for any spread. Be it peanut butter, Nutella, Vegemite, or Marmite. Even margarine. Because that's the kind of people we are. In the pantry of our hearts. (Note: I will now be ending every post with that sentence.)

*Ew, that sounds a bit like a medical condition.


  1. My mom STILL orders "Classic Coca-Cola" at restaurants, just to make sure they don't give her the wrong Coke. I've never had Vegemite; sounds like an acquired taste!

  2. I love Marmite. Love it. I'm just a simple midwestern girl, it's true, but I love it on buttered RyVita. I will say that it would take me 5 years to eat a container of the size you have posted.

    But Amy! I totally agree with you about people not having an outlet for strong emotions & having transferrence! I feel like it happens a lot (a lot!) with sadness + natural disasters or other people's misfortune. Dunno. Enjoy the rest of yr weekend!

  3. I'm intrigued by this Cheesybite. When I was there and tried Vegemite, it was with butter, but I think it could be tasty with cream cheese.

    And seriouly, iSnack 2.0? That is just stupid.

    I love that you have to check your Vegemite work with other mums. Do they understand that since you're from the US, you'll never get it?

  4. I love sampling other cultures, but I think I'll pass on the Vegimite and Marmite. Now , if you are passing out potted meat sandwiches, save me one.

  5. I have been converted! I love them both with cheese and crackers! an american gone kiwi!

  6. it was with butter, but I think it could be tasty with cream cheese. Work from home India

  7. Rebekah loooovvvved Vegemite until isnack2.0 came along. Now I'm concerned I've lost her forever in the vegemite department as she just loooooovvves the new isnack2.0, sorry "cheesymite" I meant!
    Also, I think it's only a matter of time before Ava and Nate and then Grace perhaps (if you're here long enough) will cave into peer pressure and ask you to pack them vegemite sandwiches for school:) Sorry to break that one to you:)

  8. Thank you for explaining this to me. I have often read of professional cyclists eating "vegemite" b/c its super good recovery food, or sumpthin.

    One question remains. Why "vege" if it has no "vege-tables?"

    Also the vegemite/marmite, reminds me of the Dr. Suess book where the two towns battle, b/c one likes their bread butter-side-up, the other bread butter-side-down.

  9. I will say that it would take me 5 years to eat a container of the size you have posted.
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