Tuesday is Australia Day down under, the official National Day of Australia that celebrates the anniversary of the arrival of the first fleet of British ships to the continent in 1788. The First Fleet, as it is now referred to, consisted of 2 Royal Navy vessels, 3 ships carrying supplies and sundries and six ships carrying upwards of 1000 marines, seamen and convicts. The idea was to establish a penal colony there since the British lost the thirteen colonies in 1776, and couldn’t set up the penal colony there. The landing of the fleet marked the beginnings of the first European settlement in Australia.
Similar to our Canada Day, the national holiday is marked by picnics, barbecues, patriotic parades and fireworks. And vegemite. No discussion of Australia would be complete without the mandatory mention of this most ubiquitous household pantry item and most iconic of Australian exports.
Vegemite is Australia’s version of marmite, the British yeast and vegetable extract spread that was created at the beginning of the 1900s and whose popularity spread throughout the British Empire. Just after world war one, many everyday goods became unavailable due to a disruption of British imports, including marmite. Egads! So one Cyril Callister, an employee of the Australian company Fred Walker & Co., was tasked with the job of developing Australia’s own ersatz marmite, which he did by mixing extracts of celery and onion with the yeasty, sludgy waste products of the Carlton & United Breweries, which over the years has become Fosters Group, brewers of the lager that is also synonymous with Australia.
Brewer’s yeast is a good source of vitamin B, but live yeast tastes boring, it is poorly digested. Inactivated yeast lacks the disadvantages, but is still bland. The inventor of vegemite solved this problem using autolysis: a process where the yeast’s own enzymes break it down. Spent brewer’s yeast is sieved to get rid of hop resins, and washed to remove bitter tastes. Then it is suspended in water at a temperature greater than 37 C with no nutrients: the yeast cells die, and vitamins and minerals leach out. Then the proteolytic (protein-splitting) enzymes take over, breaking the yeast proteins down into smaller water-soluble fragments, which also leach out. The yeast cell membrane is unruptured during this time, and can be removed by centrifuging. The clear light brown liquid is then concentrated under a vacuum to a thick paste (the vacuum helps preserve flavours and vitamin B1, thiamine). It is seasoned with salt, and a small proportion of celery and onion extracts to increase the palatability-convict creations
Vegemite is similar to marmite, but it is less sticky, and spreads easier. Its savoury and strong umami flavour and unmistakable salt content give it a flavour profile similar to miso, and make it a great addition to soups, gravies, burgers and stews, and, like marmite, it is probably best enjoyed spread thinly on a buttered piece of toast. When it comes to marmite, keep it simple. Nutrition wise, vegemite is packed with B vitamins, a 5 g serving providing you with 50% of your day’s requirement of B-1 and B-9, (Thiamine and Folate) and 25% of B-2 and B3 (Riboflavin and Niacin) Unlike marmite, vegemite does not have any vitamin B-12.
So on Tuesday, in honour of our Australian friends, why not have a gander at this unabashedly one-sided view of Australia’s finest while snacking on your vegemite sandwich, and washing it down with a frothy pint of it’s cousin, Foster’s lager.
Happy Australia Day!