Aussie Icons - Vegemite

Date Posted:17 October 2017 

The uninitiated spread it with abandon - and then gasp with horror - but to those who have grown up with it, Vegemite on toast tastes like home - Article by Chris Sheedy (courtesy of Sunday Life Magazine, Sun-Herald 23 Jan 2005)


The uninitiated spread it with abandon  - and then gasp with horror - but to those who have grown up with it, Vegemite on toast tastes like home - By Chris Sheedy  (Story courtesy of Sunday Life Magazine, Sun-Herald 23 Jan 2005)

In every culture, there are foods locals adore and from which outsiders recoil.   The French love escargot.   On Thanksgiving Day, Americans devour candied yams.   Even the most cultured Italian salivates at the thought of tripe in a white wine and tomato sauce.   We Australians have bottled our internationally reviled obsession.   It's a gooey, black substance, similar in appearance to axlegrease, and it sits proudly in eight out of 10 Australian pantries.

The first jar of the product now known as Vegemite was labelled "pure vegetable extract" by food technologist Dr Cyril P. Callister.   The Fred Walker Company, which produced, sold and exported cheese (and eventually became Kraft Foods Ltd), had hired Callister in 1922 to create a foodstuff from waste brewer's yeast obtained from Melbourne's Carlton & United Breweries.   Yeast cells were taken from a beer vat and washed before being broken down by enzymes, allowing vitamins, minerals and proteins to leach out into the liquid.   It was then concentrated into a thick paste and seasoned with salt and vegetable extracts such as onion and celery.

A national naming competition followed, offering 50 pounds to the winner - an enormous amount at the time.   But although it was launched with much fanfare in 1923, Vegemite did not immediately seduce the Australian palate and, in 1928, poor sales convinced Walker  to change the name to Parwill in an attempt to piggyback on the success of Britain's Marmite ("If Marmite, then Parwill").

Thankfully, Walker reverted to the original name and in 1937, after two years of giving away a free jar of Vegemite with other Fred Walker products, the nation was finally hooked.   But Walker, who died of heart failure in 1935, never witnessed Vegemite's success.

During World War II, Australian troops were kept well fed with Vegemite, creating great goodwill towards the brand.   After the war, its high levels of vitamin B made it a favourite with mums.   Today we consume almost 23 million jars of Vegemite a year and the dark spread is found in one out of every three sandwiches eaten.

Time Line

1893    Vegemite creator Cyril P. Callister is born on February 16.

1923    Vegemite debuts on the grocer's shelf and receives a lukewarm reception.

1928    Vegemite's name is changed to Parwill.

1942    So much Vegemite is needed to feed the troops during World War II that it's rationed for the civilian market at home.

1954    A singing trio called the Happy Little Vegemites is heard on the radio and becomes part of Australian culture.

1984    The first product to be electronically scanned at an Australian supermarket is a jar of Vegemite.

For more information about Vegemite, check out the Vegemite website


If you are game enough to sample Vegemite yourself, just follow this link:

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Sam Kopuz
Souvenirs Australia Warehouse