Vegemite is a spread for bread made from extracts of brewer’s yeast, some vegetables, and spices. It is most closely associated with New Zealand and Australia where it is manufactured by Kraft®. Vegemite isn’t the first spread of this type—prior to Australia manufacturing it, the British had Marmite, and the Swiss had a similar spread called Cenovis.
Marmite was developed and manufactured before 1910. Conversely, Dr. Cyril P. Callister created Vegemite in 1923. Though at first the product was called Vegemite, the name changed to Parwill in 1928. This was an effort to replace the more popular Marmite exported from Britain and available in Australia. A slogan “Marmite but Parwill,” was adopted to expand sales of Parwill.
Parwill was renamed Vegemite in 1935, and it has been successful in holding the Australian market since. It also sells well in the UK, sometimes surpassing Marmite. Vegemite may be found in the US in stores selling imported products, but can be difficult to find. This led to an urban legend that the US had banned the selling of Vegemite because it contained folate or folic acid as an additive. The Food and Drug Administration has no plans, nor did it ever plan, to ban sales of Vegemite.
Probably the more appropriate explanation for lack of available Vegemite is that the taste is something of an acquired one. It has a sour, somewhat bitter and very salty taste that doesn’t appeal to many Americans. In fact there are plenty of Australians and New Zealanders who don’t care for it either. Despite this, Vegemite is often considered the national food of Australia.
Vegemite is often used as a spread on toast, or for sandwiches. It inspired the famous reference from the Australian band Men at Work, in the song “Land Down Under.” A line states: “He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich.”
Kraft currently advertises Vegemite as both healthy and a great snack for pregnant moms. One serving of about a teaspoon or five grams has 30% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of folic acid or folate, which is an important nutrient, especially for women trying to get pregnant. Women who take the RDA of folic acid, prior to getting pregnant, have a much lower incidence of bearing children with a variety of birth defects.
Vegemite is also low in fat, and contains about the same sodium content as a glass of milk. So though it tastes fairly salty, it is really not high in sodium or fat. Though a good source of several B vitamins, Vegemite is not particularly high in protein. On its own or served with bread, it doesn’t necessarily make for a protein rich meal.