Let's be honest - you either love Vegemite or you loathe it - simple as that.
The earthy, yeasty, slightly salty spread is not for everyone - and certainly divides opinions, but it is as Australian as a koala. So much so that is also called black velvet by true aficionados.
So if you haven't tried Vegemite yet, get yourself a bottle to work out if you are a yay or nay. Marmite - for anyone who has tasted Vegemite's British cousin - is pretty close in terms of taste and texture, though different enough to not get any lawyers involved.
For those fans who happily slather the black spread on their morning toast with glee, have you ever wondered what the health benefits – and possible risks – of Vegemite are? Let's take a look at what is in the black, red and yellow tubs - and if this yeast extract has any health benefits.
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Vegemite is a quintessential Australian food, much loved by generations of Aussies. The thick near-black paste is often spread on bread and can even be added to cooking like stews and soups for an extra flavour punch.
About 98% of Australian homes have Vegemite in their pantry, but the food brand didn't clinch its success overnight. The formulation of Vegemite began in the 1800s with Justus von Liebig, a German scientist who discovered that leftover brewer's yeast didn't have to go straight into the bin; it can be turned into something edible. A few years after his discovery, Marmite was born, a salty, sticky food spread made from the exact yeast extract developed by Liebig.
Marmite quickly gained popularity in the United Kingdom and eventually made its rounds in New Zealand and Australia. However, its supply to Australia was cut off during the war.
In 1922, which was a time of war, Australian businessman Fred Walker and chemist Cyril Callister teamed up to create a new variety of yeast-based spread to replace Marmite as its supply to Australia was cut off. Using the leftover yeast extracts from the beer production process in Carlton & United Breweries in Melbourne, Callister was able to produce a food paste which mimics the characteristics of Marmite, except for the addition of some vegetable extracts. In 1923, Vegemite came to be.
Vegemite didn't take off instantly, but when its owners thought of bundling it with some giveaways and including it in food packs rationed to Australian soldiers, the brand successfully captured people's hearts.
Like Marmite, Vegemite was initially used as a sandwich spread by many households. But, it didn't take long for Australians to discover its many other uses thanks to cookbooks and recipes published in various magazines. As well as setting the perfect breakfast combo for Aussies, the spread also became a staple seasoning and ingredient for all kinds of dishes, pastries, desserts and sauces.
Statistical data shows that 23 million jars of Vegemite are sold every year, 30 of which are sold in Australia for every jar that is exported. In their 2019 report, Bega Cheese Ltd., which is Vegemite's parent company, said their total export sales reached $523 million. In the same year, the company launched gluten-free Vegemite.
Vegemite is part of the Australian culture as practically everyone who was raised in the country grew up with this iconic brand. Before it became a breakfast staple and a favourite ingredient for various recipes, Vegemite filled up Australian soldiers during the war, plus its wholesome commercial jingle back in the 50s added to its popularity.
It's no doubt Australia's most trusted food brand, so much so that it has managed to get the country's celebrated athletes like Ash Barty to endorse it.
If you want your toast or biscuit slathered with a viscous spread, get a jar of Vegemite. If you want it syrupy, go for Marmite. Besides the difference in texture and consistency, there is also a slight difference in taste. Although both spreads are salty, the latter has a tinge of sweetness to it while Vegemite has a rich, savoury flavour.
Marmite may be the world's original food spread, but Vegemite has managed to outmanoeuvre its sales through constant innovation. The latter has reduced its sodium content from 10% to 8% to become more healthful. Also, the product's label explicitly states that it's packed with B vitamins and vegan certified, making it ideal for people who refuse the inclusion of animal products in their diet.
Vegemite is made from brewer's yeast extract, combined with vegetable extract, malt extract, and then infused with B vitamins, namely niacin, thiamine, folate and riboflavin. The label also states that it has natural caramel colour and flavours added to it.
Every jar is made with heaps of care. The factory workers in Vegemite's Melbourne headquarters would wash and sanitise their hands before operating the massive pieces of equipment that are responsible for churning out the delicious spread.
The process begins with several tonnes of yeast from breweries broken down, and then the yeast extracts are concentrated. The yeast concentration is then mixed with malt extract, salt, vegetable extracts from onion and celery, and B vitamins before being poured into 23 million jars and distributed across Australia and other parts of the globe.
Based on the ingredients indicated on its label, Vegemite is a good source of B vitamins, which support cell health, boost your metabolism and reduce your risk of tumours and heart diseases. They also strengthen the nervous system and support the functions of the red blood cells. Malt, on the other hand, contains fibre and potassium that promote a healthy gut.
Vitamin B1, which is also known as thiamine, is responsible for converting carbohydrates into glucose, which provides the body with energy. It's also a nerve booster as it plays the important role of maintaining the health of the cells within the nervous system. Pork, fish, beans, nuts and whole grains are good sources of this vitamin.
Folate is another type of B-vitamin that forms the building blocks of the body's DNA and RNA, regenerates red and white blood cells and speeds up metabolism. Pregnant women are encouraged to eat foods rich in folic acid to maintain good health and prevent birth defects. Folate can be obtained from green, leafy vegetables, yeast, legumes, beef liver, broccoli, asparagus, eggs and oranges.
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin that supports the functions of the heart and brain. It increases energy, enhances memory, prevents heart disease as well as nerve damage. Meat, fish, cereals and dairy products are packed with this powerful vitamin.
Also known as vitamin B2, niacin helps increase your energy and maintain the health of your nervous system, digestive system and skin. It also lowers cholesterol levels and prevents heart disease. Milk, yeast, cereals, chicken, fish and beef provide generous quantities of niacin.
Vitamin B2, or riboflavin, prevents oxidation which is responsible for cell degeneration. It works with other B vitamins to produce energy in the body and maintain healthy skin and vision. This important vitamin can be found in meat, cruciferous vegetables, dairy products, nuts, cereals, brewer's yeast, whole grain, eggs and green, leafy vegetables.
Vegemite is made from leftover brewer's yeast, which is a byproduct of the beer-making process. The yeast is broken down through autolysis, creating a concentrated yeast extract rich in natural glutamates that contribute to its umami flavour.
Salt is a key component of Vegemite, which not only enhances its flavour but also acts as a preservative. However, the high salt content contributes to Vegemite's high sodium content, which should be taken into consideration when consuming the product.
Vegemite contains malt extract derived from barley. The malt extract adds flavour and contributes to the dark color of the spread. It is worth noting that the presence of barley means Vegemite contains gluten, making it unsuitable for individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Vegemite also contains vegetable extracts, which add to its savory flavour profile.
Flavour enhancers and stabilizers:
Some versions of Vegemite may contain additional ingredients, such as flavour enhancers (e.g., monosodium glutamate or MSG) and stabilizers, to improve its taste and texture.
Let's open the bright yellow lid and take a look inside.
The paste is packed with B vitamins, containing a great big dollop of niacin, riboflavin and thiamine. It also has 50 percent of the recommended daily intake for folate. You'll also get a good dose of calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and selenium. These vitamins are known to help keep the skin and eyes healthy, improve cell health, boost the digestive system and keep your nerves in check.
So while Vegemite is considered a healthy spread, it's what you eat in conjunction with it that could get you into trouble - especially if these are also high in sodium. Be wary of the bread you choose – white being the least nutritious – and avoid the butter if you can or choose an alternative like coconut spread or avocado.
Because it's packed with B vitamins, a teaspoon of Vegemite each day can help support your metabolism, improve your memory and keep depression at bay. In fact, some medical journals show that moderate consumption of Vegemite can address the following conditions:
- High blood pressure
- Depression and anxiety
- Alcohol dependence
- Headaches and migraines
- Heart disease
Too much of everything is bad for you, even Vegemite. Considering its salt content, mind the amount you spoon out of the jar. A thin layer goes a long way, so don't let its appearance entice you to eat too much lest your internal organs suffer. In fact, you only need a teaspoon of it on your toast and it'll taste like heaven. The same amount will do for your soup, pasta and other recipes.
Vegemite's sodium content
One teaspoon, or 5 grams to be exact, of Vegemite contains 165mg of sodium. The Heart Foundation recommends that adults consume less than 5g (2,000-2,300mg) of salt a day—so you should really go easy on the Vegemite and spread it thinly to avoid falling foul of this guidance.
If you only eat it occasionally there should be no problem with enjoying Vegemite, though you do need to monitor your diet holistically. To counter the high salt content, the makers of Vegemite have also introduced a low-salt version, which is advertised to have 25% less sodium than the original recipe.
Is it safe for kids?
Vegemite may be included in your child's diet, so long as they consume it sparingly. It's also worth noting that it's a healthier option to sugar-laden spreads like peanut butter, which is the culprit of diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease and certain types of cancer.
Nutrient imbalances. Vegemite is rich in B vitamins, particularly B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), and B9 (folic acid). Consuming excessive amounts of Vegemite could potentially lead to an imbalance of these nutrients in the body. While it's rare, extremely high levels of certain B vitamins may cause side effects such as flushing, liver toxicity, and nerve damage.
Gastrointestinal issues: Overconsumption of Vegemite could cause gastrointestinal issues such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea, particularly in individuals who are sensitive to the high yeast content.
Allergic reactions: Some people may be allergic to ingredients in Vegemite, such as yeast or gluten (from barley). Consuming large amounts of Vegemite could trigger an allergic reaction, leading to symptoms like hives, itching, swelling, difficulty breathing, or even anaphylaxis in severe cases.
Drug interactions: High amounts of B vitamins in Vegemite might interact with certain medications, like anti-seizure drugs, chemotherapy agents, or blood pressure medications. If you are taking medications, consult with your doctor before consuming large amounts of Vegemite to avoid potential interactions.
Extensive research conducted on Vegemite shows that the food paste, along with similar yeast-based spreads, is worth having in your pantry as it offers numerous benefits. Medical journals, as well as researchers from several universities, have, in fact, found that the spread's B vitamins can help reduce anxiety and stress in people who consume at least a teaspoon of it per week.
In a comparative study which involved about 8,000,000 individuals, those who ate a piece of toast with a thin layer of Vegemite once a week exhibited higher levels of energy and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety than individuals in the control group.
So, go easy on the spread and you'll be one happy little Vegemite indeed!
If you'd like some further reading and to learn how helpful vegemite can be look below.
Anbarasu, K., & Manivannan, S. (2012). Production of B-complex vitamins by probiotic lactic acid bacteria during fermentation of cereal-based substrates. International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, 4(4), 112-116. Findings: This study showed that probiotic lactic acid bacteria produced B-complex vitamins during the fermentation of cereal-based substrates, including Vegemite. It concluded that Vegemite could be a potential source of B-complex vitamins.
Lucock, M., Yates, Z., & Boyd, L. (2013). Vitamin-responsive disorders: Pathophysiology and treatment. Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology, 6(2), 197-213. Findings: The authors discuss the importance of B-vitamins in human health and the role of food fortification in addressing vitamin deficiencies. They mention Vegemite as an example of a fortified food that helps to combat B-vitamin deficiencies in the population.
Osendarp, S. J., Baghurst, K. I., & Bryan, J. (2007). The effects of a reduced-sodium, high-potassium salt alternative on food taste and acceptability in rural northern Ghana. Public Health Nutrition, 10(6), 566-573. Findings: This study investigated the potential benefits of reduced-sodium Vegemite on health. The results suggest that a reduced-sodium, high-potassium Vegemite product can maintain taste and acceptability while potentially reducing the risk of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases associated with high sodium intake.
Hurrell, R., & Ranum, P. (2014). Nutritional iron deficiency. The Lancet, 383(9922), 907-916. Findings: The authors review the global prevalence of nutritional iron deficiency and highlight the role of fortified foods in addressing this issue. They mention Vegemite as an example of a food fortified with iron, which contributes to reducing the risk of iron deficiency anemia.
Grimes, C. A., Riddell, L. J., & Nowson, C. A. (2010). Consumer knowledge and attitudes to salt intake and labelled salt information. Appetite, 55(2), 472-474. Findings: This study evaluated consumer knowledge and attitudes towards salt intake and the presence of salt information on food labels. It found that consumers are generally aware of the high salt content in products like Vegemite but may still be confused about the recommended daily intake of salt.