Kitchn Love Letters

This Controversial Australian Comfort Food Is the Flavor Bomb Your Dishes Are Missing

published May 3, 2023
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Ceramic plate with serving of mac and cheese and a fork sitting on ochre tablecloth. Fizzy drink in upper right corner
Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Duncan Fitzpatrick

I’ll admit that I’d only heard of Vegemite in reference to Aussies loving spreading the brown goo on toast and people in the rest of the world disparaging it. Then I saw a recipe in an Australian food magazine where a vegan chef explained what it was and how he used it as a flavor booster. I was intrigued.

Credit: Ivy Manning

What’s So Great About Vegemite?

Made with yeast extract, this thick brown condiment looks and smells like concentrated bouillon paste. Developed in Melbourne, Australia, in 1922 as a homegrown substitute for the U.K.-imported Marmite, Vegemite is made from leftover yeast used to make beer (aka brewer’s yeast), celery, onion, and salt. It is high in glutamate, the natural component that gives umami ingredients their distinctive savory flavor.

According to the Vegemite website, 80% of Australians have it on hand at all times and a Vegemite sandwich is as common as a PB and J is to many Americans! Vegemite is so loved down under that there’s merch, including Vegmite infant high tops, swimsuits, and earrings to commemorate its 100-year anniversary. There’s even a Happy Little Vegemites song that many Australians know by heart.

Credit: Ivy Manning

What’s the Best Way to Use Vegemite?

I found it at World Market (it’s available at other online retailers, too), brought it home, and stirred a half teaspoon into a bechamel sauce for homemade macaroni and cheese. It was the best mac and cheese I’d ever made! You couldn’t pick out the Vegemite flavor exactly, but it gave the dish a full, rich flavor similar to soy sauce, but with a “cheesy” quality.  

Since then, I’ve been reaching for it multiple times a week to add savoriness to various dishes. It’s great in French onion soup, cheddar cheese biscuits, cottage pie, turkey gravy, potato salad, and mushroom pasta. I’ve moved on to snacks, too — a little stirred into the butter I drizzle over popcorn had me rethinking my usual truffle salt, and I recently added a smidge to a batch of brownies (in place of salt) with great results! 

Vegemite is my secret seasoning for lots of things now; I’ve found that the small (7.7-ounce) shelf-stable jar doesn’t last long in my kitchen! That said, there is one way I don’t actually love this stuff: Spread on toast. (Imagine smearing your breakfast with beef bouillon paste.) It must be something you only love if you grew up with it? I’ll stick with my strawberry jam, thank you very much. For everything else, Vegemite is my (savory) jam. 

Buy: Vegemite, $9.99 for 7.7 ounces at World Market

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