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Vegemite Is the Curious Comfort Food From Down Under

vegemite
Vegemite is a brewers' yeast spread that is popular in Australia where it originated. Graham Denholm/Getty Images

If you've never tried Vegemite, you're missing out — at least, that's what they say in Australia, where the savory spread is king. But if you're not from Down Under, you probably don't even know what it is.

Well, Vegemite is a breakfast spread with a peanut butter-like consistency that's made from brewers' yeast extract. This Australian staple, renowned for a salty, sometimes yeasty flavor, was inspired by the British spread Marmite, that's also made from yeast extract.

The Marmite Food Extract Company bottled and exported its spread to Australia and New Zealand in the early 1900s. Rich in vitamin B, Marmite was a staple for soldiers during World War I. When war disrupted imports, Australians had to get creative. Melbourne chemist Cyril Percy Callister introduced Australia's own version of the black paste, and Vegemite was born.

Fast-forward more than 100 years, and Vegemite is still an Australian favorite. Kentucky resident Sid Pomeroy, who was born in Australia and lived there for 37 years before moving to the U.S., says most families start their kids on Vegemite early. "My first taste that I remember would be around age 4 or 5," Pomeroy says in an email. "It's just something we ate most mornings for breakfast: Vegemite on toast. Even to this day I watch my 1-year-old granddaughter eat Vegemite toast via FaceTime."

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Acquiring the Vegemite Taste

While it's beloved in Australia, Vegemite has yet to catch on in the U.S. Australian-born chef Stuart Rackham says the spread takes some time to get used to. Rackham is vice president of innovation and supply chain at Fogo de Chão in Houston.

"It's what you would call an acquired taste," Rackham says in an email. "Just looking at its black color and solid consistency may raise questions, and then when you smell it for the first time, it can be overwhelming." That smell he's describing — a result of its brewers-yeast make up — is a described as "sulfur, meaty, chicken broth" according to The Guardian. That's one reason Americans may turn their noses up. Another? The strong taste.

"Growing up on it with toast or with cheese on a sandwich, it's something you grow accustomed to and kind of crave," Rackham says. "I think to a lot of people who try it for the first time, they think of it like applying peanut butter to a piece of bread, so they slather it on. Actually, you only need a thin spreading."

vegemite
The most traditional way to eat Vegemite is on a slice of toast with butter. And a little bit goes a long way!
Rachel Husband/Getty Images

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How to Eat Vegemite

Australian actor Hugh Jackman gave American late-night host Jimmy Fallon a Vegemite lesson we could all learn from in 2015. "It's not like Nutella, you can't scoop it on," Jackman said on the show. He went on to give a must-watch tutorial for Vegemite virgins.

Vegemite on buttered toast is perhaps the simplest, most straightforward way to eat it, although cheese and, increasingly, avocado are among the plus-up recipes. But Rackham has a few other tricks up his sleeve. "It's really best enjoyed with hot toast and butter, but it can be used in some beef recipes as a stock, like in a stew," Rackham says. "It adds an interesting complexity and salty and savory note. One use I remember from childhood is when you're feeling a little under the weather, a spoonful of Vegemite in a hot mug of water helps, and gives you a nice dose of vitamin B."

And more about those health perks: Vegemite has a lot of them. While it may be a savory comfort food for Australians, its megadose of vitamin B is what led to its creation in the first place. Soldiers relied on Vegemite, and its predecessor Marmite, for vitamin B during World War I. According to Healthline, it's a great source of vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B9; the reduced-salt Vegemite options include B6 and B12.

Together, these vitamins support everything from heart health and brain health to reduced fatigue and anxiety. And, according to Pomeroy's experience, the brown spread has another miraculous benefit: "It's a great hangover cure."

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