Australians will always prefer Vegemite as Vegemite actually tastes like Australia. The English are welcome to their mild Marmite, it probably suits their sensitive palates a little more.”
Matt Gray - Senior Marketing Manager, Vegemite - AdNews
I shall admit right from the start that I don't like either of these. We had Marmite at home in England and, of course, it's all Vegemite here but I have never been a fan. My Australian sons, of course did eat Vegemite but not a huge amount. It's a bit like whisky for me. I just can't get past the smell.
Anyway The Guardian's Word of Mouth newsletter had a link to an article by Stuart Heritage which referenced 10 different things you could do with Marmite, and so I thought I would look into the differences. Condiments from around the world seem to be the thing these days and so it's time to look at these two - perhaps the most nationalistic of the lot. Do the Americans have anything similar? I think not. Ketchup is not the same at all.
Now I must admit that I thought that Marmite was a meat based thing and Vegemite a vegetable based thing, but it seems I'm wrong - well not so much with Vegemite. Fundamentally they are the same thing - a paste made from yeast extract which is a byproduct of beer brewing.
"both products are made using the same method of combining salt with a suspension of yeast and then heating it. This creates a rich paste which both companies then add their own proprietary blend of flavors, spices, and vitamins to." The Daily Meal
The pros of this are that there are heaps of B vitamins in it - hence its promotion as a healthy food for kids - ' happy little vegemites' - and the con is lots of salt. Vegemite is most often said to be thicker and more like peanut butter in consistency and also black - with more of a kick or oomph I believe. I admit I was a bit surprised by the black comments as it always looks brown to me. Marmite on the other hand is more syrupy - more like honey in consistency and browner. Tastewise Marmite is said to be salty, balanced by sweetness. Vegemite is salty but bitter.
Marmite is the older one, having been invented back in the 1800s by a German scientist called Justus von Liebig who discovered that you could concentrate leftover brewer's yeast. Vegemite was invented in Australia by Cyril Percy Callister when WW1 disrupted the importation of Marmite, and when there was a surplus of leftover brewer's yeast - to which he added, salt, spices and onion and celery extracts. And they are both really strong, so basically you spread it on your toast and then scrape it off. Ugh say I.
It's a fiercely nationalistic thing - witness remarks such as this:
"Like so much of Australian culture, Vegemite was basically a rip-off of the British original." Culture Trip
In 2019, as reported by AdNews the rivalry came to a head with a bit of tit for tat advertising and joshing at the Ashes. Vegemite noted that the MCC Members had been wearing the Vegemite colours of yellow and red on their blazers for year. (I assume it's the MCC colours.) Their senior Marketing manager, Matt Gray commented:
“We are flattered that the members of the home of cricket have been showing their support for Vegemite for years. We’re only sorry we didn’t give them the recognition they deserve for supporting Vegemite until now. We’re not sure how Marmite must feel, knowing that the MCC Members openly prefer the taste of Australia.”
And they followed this up with these two ads:
Actually the second ad was in response to Marmite handing out free jars of their product at the Test and also because of this ad which made a not so oblique reference to the ball tampering episode.
According to the article in AdNews, at the time of writing, the battle was still going on with Vegemite offering that:
"Any MCC members who turn up to Lord’s in their red and yellow Vegemite colours, with a jar of Marmite can then send the Marmite jar to Melbourne Australia, and the Aussie company will swap it for a new jar of stronger, bolder Vegemite."
Before I move on to what to do with it I also found a Choice article which did a blind tasting of the two with 31 people. Well I say two. They actually found there were nine different products of this type available in Australia.
Interestingly the low salt version of Vegemite came out on top, followed by the standard Vegemite and a tie between AussieMite and the gluten free version of Vegemite. I was going to say the test wasn't fair because it was very heavily Australian, but then it was a blind testing, so that shouldn't have mattered really. Although perhaps it did. They may well have been more familiar with the taste of The Australian Vegemite. A bit of fun anyway and I'm sure it gladdened the hearts of Vegemite management.
Whatever the ultimate verdict, and I'm sure that has more to do with personal preference than anything else, today thanks to the trendiness of umami - heaps of umami in both - and Nigella's famous Marmite spaghetti recipe you can now find all manner of other ways to use it.
Because of The Guardian's article being the prime mover here perhaps I should start with their final link which is to a recipe for making your own Marmite. It comes from a Nottingham restaurant called Alchemilla and is pretty simple but time consuming - two to three days required, plus a lot of time stirring stuff on the stove. You only need sourdough bread and sugar and you end up with this.
By the way these recipe suggestions - well the first lot from this article anyway are for Marmite, but I am assuming you can substitute Vegemite. Stuart Heritage's favourite was Marmite and thyme roast potatoes - no picture I'm afraid. Then there's the famous Spaghetti with Marmite from Nigella, and Cheesy Marmite straws from Alvin Caudwell. But I won't go on - honestly just type in Marmite (or Vegemite) recipes and you will find hundreds. Ok - just a couple of Vegemite ones - Icy poles and Lamingtons! Extreme cooking I think. Looks like the Australians are more out there than the British perhaps.
Not something I'm going to try anytime soon, though I guess a tiny bit dropped into soup, stew, a marinade might be interesting. The Australian suggestions featured sausage rolls rather a lot.