Learn English while learning about daily life in Australia, with Rob McCormack
Podcast Number 68 – Australia’s Vegemite
There are some things which people think of as typically Australian. Our National Museum of Australia in Canberra has created a special exhibition of the things which are thought to be symbols of our country and our way of life. Their list includes Kangaroos and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which I have talked about in earlier podcasts. See http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/symbols_of_australia/home
In this podcast I would like to talk about another of those symbols – Vegemite. Vegemite is a food and some people would say it is not a very good symbol for a country. But the fact is, most Australians would say this particular food is typically Australian. Some people can’t stand the taste of it, but for me, it’s unique taste and appearance somehow says something about Australians. It’s a part of our culture that we often value the things which are perhaps ordinary and also a little quirky. Vegemite is just like that. It doesn’t look great and it doesn’t cost much. But it’s ours.
Vegemite is a paste which is usually spread onto bread, toast or crackers. It is dark brown in colour and has a very, very strong taste. It is so strong that it must always be used in quite small amounts. It is made from yeast extract and has some other spices added to it. When I was a child, someone told me that vegemite was made by boiling up a dead cow in a gigantic pot for days until there was only just a dark paste left – that paste was Vegemite. Of course it was a joke and I knew at the time that it wasn’t true, but it also seemed to make sense to me in a strange sort of way. The taste of Vegemite is so strong that it tastes like all the salty flavours from a complete cow concentrated into one dark paste. Wow, that would be a powerful taste. Well that’s sort of what Vegemite is like. It certainly is a unique taste.
There are other similar products on the market which come from other countries. For example, the British have a product called Marmite which is very similar to Vegemite. In fact, Vegemite was developed in Australia in 1922 by Cyril McCallister in Melbourne, when Marmite imports from Britain were in short supply after the First World War. He was asked by his employer to develop a spread from the waste yeast coming from beer brewers. He came up with Vegemite. It really became popular during the Second World War, when it was included in Australian soldiers’ army rations. By the late 1940s, Vegemite had become a very common Australian food.
Vegemite is actually high in B Vitamins, including thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid – all of which are good for bodily health. I guess a lot of mothers, including mine, thought it was a good idea to give their children something rich in vitamins. Of course, it does have a high salt content, around 8%, so I think too much Vegemite would not be a good thing.
One of the best ways to eat Vegemite is on toast. But here’s the trick. Don’t spread it too thickly. It’s not like jam or honey. If you put it on too thickly, it will be the first and the last time you eat Vegemite. Make your toast in the normal way in a toaster, then spread a layer of butter or margarine. Now apply a thin layer of Vegemite, enough so that you can still easily see quite a lot of the butter underneath. That’s the way to enjoy the delights of Vegemite.
Another favourite is Vegemite sandwiches. You make the sandwich in the usual way with bread and a thin layer of butter or margarine. Lastly add a thin spreading of Vegemite. A popular addition is to add a slice of cheese. This is one of my personal favourites. The cheese and the Vegemite seem to taste great together. Of course there are many other Vegemite recipes which you can find. I go to a local café where they sell Vegemite Scrolls. These are like a coffee bun, but with Vegemite instead of coffee. They taste great.
Over the years, there have been some wonderful advertisements for Vegemite. The most famous is a television advertisement from 1959 showing marching children singing a song about Vegemite. That tune is instantly recognized by most older Australians. It seems a bit strange today, but back in 1959, that’s how advertisements were done.
It’s sometimes funny to watch people have their first taste of Vegemite. There is no doubt that it is not for everyone, but if you have it too thickly spread, it’s almost certain that you will think it’s disgusting. Actually, when spread thickly, it is disgusting. But when eaten correctly, in small amounts, Vegemite can be a taste which can grow on you. I guess many Australian children grow up with it, so it’s not surprising that it has such a strong following in Australia. Have fun eating your first Vegemite.
If you have a question or a comment to make, please leave it in the comments box at the bottom of this page. Or, you can send me an email at email@example.com. I would love to hear from you. Tell me where you live, a little bit about yourself and what you think of my Slow English podcast. I will write back to you, in English of course. If you would like to take a short quiz to see if you have understood this podcast, you will also find it on my website. Goodbye until next time.
Podcast 68 Quiz - Did you understand the podcast?
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If you got all the questions right, well done! If you got some questions wrong, don’t worry. It’s normal for language learners to take time to develop their understanding.
Question 1 of 10
True or False? – The National Museum of Australia in Canberra has listed the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Kangaroos as symbols of Australia’s way of life.Correct
Question 2 of 10
True or False? – Everybody in Australia loves the taste of Vegemite.Correct
Question 3 of 10
True or False? – Vegemite has a very, very strong taste.Correct
Question 4 of 10
True or False? – When Rob was a child, someone made a joke by telling him that Vegemite was made by boiling up a cow.Correct
Question 5 of 10
True or False? – Vegemite became popular because it was included in Australian soldiers’ army rations during the Second World War.Correct
Question 6 of 10
True or False? – Vegemite is high in B Vitamins but too much of this would not be good for bodily health.Correct
Question 7 of 10
True or False? – When you eat Vegemite on toast, you must spread it thickly.Correct
Question 8 of 10
True or False? – Rob enjoys Vegemite Scrolls and Vegemite and cheese sandwiches.Correct
Question 9 of 10
True or False? – Rob thinks Vegemite on toast is disgusting when it is spread thinly.Correct
Question 10 of 10
True or False? – Vegemite is a little quirky, but Australians often like quirky things.Correct
appearance = how it looks
army rations = the food carried and eaten by soldiers
brewers = beer makers
bun = a very small loaf of bread you can hold in one hand
can’t stand the taste = you hate something
concentrated = when only the most important parts are left
cow = an animal grown for beef and for milk (female)
crackers = biscuits
culture = the way people live and the things they like and do
delights = things which make you happy
developed = made
disgusting = when something is really, really unpleasant
doubt = when you are not sure about something
employer = the person who gives you a job
exhibition = a collection of things which people can look at
extract = something which is concentrated
flavours = tastes e.g. sweet
following = when many people like something
gigantic = very, very large
imports = things brought from another country
in short supply = there is not enough of something
includes = people or things that are in the same group
joke = a story to make you laugh
layer = a single thickness of something over the top of something else
National Museum of Australia = a government museum in Canberra about Australian culture
ordinary = not special
particular = when you are talking about one thing
paste = not quite liquid, but not solid
products = the things sold in shops and businesses
quirky = a little strange or unusual
recipe = a list of things which you put together to make a meal
recognized = when you remember something
rich = a lot of
sandwiches = a food made with bread and a filling
similar = the same
slice = a piece
spices = special flavours
spread = to put a thin layer of something over something else
symbols = something makes you think of something else
thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid = examples of vitamins
toast = bread which has been slightly burnt
typically = when something is seen many times, average, normal
unique = there is nothing else like it
value = when you think something is worth a lot
Vitamins = things in food which are good for your body
yeast = used to make beer
November 13, 2021 at 1:24 am
This podcast gave me the urge to try my first Vegemite. which also helps me understand the true meaning of the following lyrics, “I said, “Do you speak-a my language?” He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich.”
If you visit China, don’t miss the chance to have your first taste of Chinese Vegemite – stinky tofu which is a strong-smelling preserved bean curd. It’s included in many Chinese people’s breakfast foods. This particular food is typically Chinese.
Thanks for sharing.
November 13, 2021 at 12:36 pm
Hi Dep. Thanks for your comment. Well spotted that Men At Work’s song gives a mention to Vegemite. It’s also interesting that other countries have similar products, including China as you mentioned. It’s amazing how people like to eat strong tasting foods such as Vegemite. We are a strange species!
Have a great day.
December 10, 2015 at 11:33 pm
I really enjoyed this podcast. I grew up on vegemite and it is definitely an acquired taste. I still have it on toast, spread thinly but with no butter or margarine. My wife, who was born in Germany, can’t stand it!
It is interesting what you say about the Army rations in World War II. I have a neighbour who was a PoW and he said that he would have gone fully blind from malnutrition had it not been for the delivery of Marmite to his prison camp by the Red Cross. As it is, he’s got limited vision.
Vegemite really is an Aussie legend as it gets a mention in the famous Men At Work song, ‘Down Under’.
December 11, 2015 at 10:33 am
Many thanks for your comment. Yes, the Men at Work knew the importance of Vegemite to being Australian.
Have a great day.
November 21, 2015 at 12:36 am
HI Rob !! Finally someone can explain me what was vegamite! None of Aussies that I’ve met could say a thing about it. It seems to be in the subconsciousness of people…
By the other hand, I really really want to thanks you, because since I’ve started to hear your podcasts I started my plans to come to Australia and now I’m turning 1 month since the arrive in Melbourne.
Actually I’m in Fitzroy, just a block at Melbourne Museum. And It’s beautiful. All the city, and everything it’s just as you describe on your website. Thanks a lot, for the tips, and thanks to your posts I could get a long a little bit easier with the Australian System, than without your information.
I wish that all people in Melbourne could talk like you. It’s really hard the Aussie language, specially when you are from another country with Spanish as you mother tongue. I’m working at a café as a barista in Toorak, and sometimes people don’t open their mouths when they ask for a Flat White, they said something like “FLT-ITE” or “FAW-AI” … and as it is just coffee I understand, but when people ask for a dessert like a Lemon Tart, they said “lnm-rt”, my head explode.
Fortunately, people here is adorable and they don’t mind to repeat me the things over and over again until I understand. Sadly, I feel how this is a big bridge that separates us to communicate well and fluently.
Anyway, about Vegamite, yes ! people have told me that’s very salty, but I would try it, because as your extreme bi-polar weather, Vegamite must be very Australian.
I wonder if you can dedicate some podcasts to this things that I’m curious. One of them is the beer. Which Australian beer, or beers, would recommend me to try or which one is the best to try? Because I’ve seen DanMurphy Store’s everywhere and I wish I could go and buy something… Also, is the wine good in Australia as it is in Chile? Any recommendation for that ? Have you tried some Chilean wine?
and the second thing, it’s nothing to do with what I wrote before. I wish if you can tell me something about the Slouch Hat. I’ve seen a lot of paintings of Australian Soldiers with this hat like with a half folded up. It’s made like that for a reason or they are just like that?
Thanks you very much again!
November 21, 2015 at 9:49 am
Many thanks for your wonderful comment. It pleases me so much that my podcast has been of assistance in your adventure to Australia. I love the way you describe your experience with our Aussie language. You should write a blog yourself! You know how to tell an interesting story. Wow, your English is impressive. I only wish my German was half as good. I think you are very brave to come to a new country where you are still learning the language and then to get a job where you have to use the language every day. You are an inspiration! But I guess that’s how you learn a language quickly, and also have lots of wonderful life experiences at the same time. Well done! Thanks for your suggestions for future podcast topics. I don’t know much about Aussie beer or wine, but there are plenty of experts on hand, so I will be able to do my research easily. Your idea about the slouch hat as a topic is also a good one. Thanks for that. Best of luck with your life in Melbourne. I’ll bet your customers think you are one of the best baristas in Melbourne.
Have a great day.
November 20, 2015 at 11:48 am
Great article on one of our staples from another era Rob. Wonderful videos!
November 20, 2015 at 12:57 pm
Thanks Ray. Still popular today as well. Cheers, Rob