As an international student who grew up in Germany, I always thought avocado on toast was THE most typical Australian breakfast.
But I realised I was wrong soon after I arrived, when my roommate introduced me to Vegemite.
If you take the UK and their very similar spread Marmite out of the equation, the popular yeast extract isn’t really known in Europe. In Germany, you’d need to find special Australian food market to hope to find some.
In 1922 the Kraft Food Company, then known as the Fred Walker Company, hired a chemist to make use of the yeast that remains after brewing beer.
After a lot of experimenting and mistakes, the dark brown spread finally hit the shelves in October 1923. Unsurprisingly it wasn’t a huge success at first. Marmite dominated the Australian market so there was little space for competition.
Vegemite found success after the war when economic conditions meant shortages and making do. Marmite was harder to access, and Vegemite was rich in Vitamin B, cheap and didn’t need to be refrigerated. the quintessential Australian spread was on the way.
These days, more than 22 million jars are sold each year.
Within my first couple of days in Australia I was introduced to the most classical ways of Vegemite: thinly spread over butter on toast.
Excited to try new things and experience the “Aussie lifestyle“ I took a rather large bite and regretted it immediately. The bitter and salty Vegemite taste spread in my mouth.
Vegemite reminded me of a German seasoning sauce called Maggi. As young people living in Germany are often introduced to it as children during their grandmother’s cooking, the sauce might be as popular as Vegemite is for Australians.
The difference is that Maggi, as a hearty condiment, is mainly used in soups or as a topping for boiled eggs. But not for breakfast.
A typical beakfast in Germany, and Europe in general, is very different but has some similar components. Often it’s a rather sweet – like in Italy or France, where cappuccinos, croissants, pain au chocolate and pastries are more common breast fare – or a mix of sweet and hearty, as in in Germany.
We usually drink tea or coffee and eat some bread with jam, honey or cheese. And if we feel real crazy, we might put a cucumber slice on the cheese.
The big Vegemite taste test
But celebrating differences and experiencing another lifestyle is what an exchange is about. So I put on a brave face, asked my roommate to help me recreate five popular ways to eat dear old Vegemite and taste them. Here are our recreation.
1. The classic: Vegemite with butter on a cracker
This simple creation offers the whole bitter and salty Vegemite experience, which is a lot for a first-timer.
Me: 0/5 Vege-stars
My room-mate: 5/5 Vege-stars (she eats it every morning)
2. The hipster: Vegemite and avocado toast
As delicious as the toast looks the bitter taste of Vegemite drowns out the avocado. It gets points for the Insta-worthy look.
Me: a solid 2/5
My room-mate: 0/5 (she doesn’t like avocado)
3. The one who must not be named: Vegemite in a baked potato with cheese
As disgusting and messy this dish looks, its taste surprised me in the best way possible!
My room-mate: 5/5
4. The swirly: Cheesymite scroll
The scroll was the only one that we didn’t create on our own but bought from a little café around the corner. The taste of the cheese is rather strong but very delicious, and it manages to cover the bitterness of Vegemite.
5. The sweet tooth: Vegemite ice-cream
Do I even need to say anything? Both of us are sure: this is a very peculiar creation.
Nearly 100 years after its creation, Australians celebrate Vegemite and what it stands for with endless merchandise options: hoodies, key chains, hats and beanies, dog collars, shoes, socks, dishes, men’s underwear and pop-up art prints.
My roommate is one of those Australians who have known the spread since childhood and consider it a significant part of their memories. According to her, the taste is special – she can’t imagine starting the day without it.
Her enthusiasm brings me hope that maybe I can still get used to the dark, bitter spread and get a little closer to the Australian lifestyle.