The MITE-y wars

One of the best things about the weekend is Vegemite toast. I love Vegemite toast. Coming from south of the equator, as I do, it is natural to like Vegemite. It’s one of the most praiseworthy Aussie creations and pretty much everyone I know from Australia or New Zealand eats it in some way, shape or form. Some poor misled creatures from Downunder, however, prefer Marmite. Blurgh.

Whenever I think of Vegemite, I think of a Japanese girl who joined our class when we were 12 years old. Her father had taken a company transfer to New Zealand and the whole family had been reading up on their new country. On arrival at their new Auckland home, Japanese Pal went directly to the back garden, looking for the eighty sheep she thought would be there, based on the ratio of sheep to people that had been mentioned in one of their guides. There were no sheep. They lived on farms or grazed in parkland. They did not live crammed into the back yard of an Eastern Suburbs bungalow. Japanese Pal was disappointed.

Back in the house her parents were opening a welcome basket left by the relocation company. Inside was a massive jar of Vegemite. To quell Japanese Pal’s disappointment at not having 80 new pet lambs to play with, she grabbed the Vegemite and spread it thickly on a slice of bread. Then she bit into it and she never ate Vegemite again. Japanese Pal had thought this spread would taste like her favourite Japanese chocolate variety. She didn’t realise it was a concentrated yeast extract with an acquired taste that should never be eaten in quantity.

In the UK a popular Marmite ad campaign states that you either ‘Love it or hate it’. Too true. Personally I hate it. Most of my antipodean friends agree with me. After growing up with Vegemite, Marmite tastes greasy. It may be a yeast extract, just like Vegemite, but in my experience, if you’ve been raised with one, you’ll never like the other.

One day at work a debate started about which -Mite we liked. Wise Woman of Wandsworth swore by Marmite. Via e-mail, Former Flatmate pledged his allegiance to Marmite also (he has a small addiction to the stuff and even owns a sterling silver lid engraved with the Marmite logo which can be screwed on to a Marmite jar). I wasn’t going to be outdone. Summoning every Antipodean in our workforce, I canvassed their opinion on which -Mite did it for them. The answer was unanimous: Vegemite. Meanwhile, all of our British colleagues backed Marmite. Hmmm. Intriguing. I put this Mite-y phenomenon down to Nurture, not Nature.

On Facebook there is a Vegemite appreciation group (all this for a sandwich spread?). In the profile a poem appears:

We’re happy little Vegemites
As bright as bright can be.
We all enjoy our Vegemite
For breakfast, lunch, and tea.
Our mother says we’re growing
stronger every single week.
Because we love our Vegemite.
We all adore our Vegemite.
It puts a rose in every cheek!

This might be taking it a bit too far. In the comments section, one facebooker recommends dipping almonds in Vegemite whilst another quotes the song ‘Land Downunder’ by Men at Work:

Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six foot four and full of muscles
I said, “Do you speak-a my language?”
He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich

I guess the influence of Vegemite is widespread. (No pun intended!)

Marmite also has a page on Facebook. It states:

Eat Marmite? You don’t just want to eat it, you want to bathe in it, wallow in it like a hippo in mud, slather yourself from head to toe and wrap yourself in bread and butter… And you know what? That’s fine. Just fine. Completely normal in fact…

Thanks anyway, but I’ll pass. Those suggestions aside, things could be worse and indeed at times they’re bordering on mental illness. Just check out the photo of the statue made of Marmite. I think that’s what we’d call OTT.

On What’s Cooking America, there is a brief history of Vegemite, with a highly entertaining comment contributed by a Vegemite connoisseur. Read this for a smile:

“Your explanation is mostly fine, but some of us like a fair coating of the stuff, not just a scrape. I’ll eat it out of the jar! But one of the most useful tips to give any cook, is how it can save an anemic gravy: When a gravy lacks colour or flavour, a quarter to a half teaspoon or so always saves the day. Young-uns often wonder why my gravy is always so good; and if they’re nice, I let them in on the secret that my Grandma told me. Funny to think my family has used a product since it was invented. Thanks for the history lesson, and try Vegemite in your gravy, you’ll love it!

You might like to know that when the company sold overseas, it was cause for national concern…everybody was outraged, and worried that “the Yanks would stuff-it-up”. People were ringing radio stations calling for the government to stop the sale. Private citizens were trying to raise funds to make a counter offer…you wouldn’t believe the furor it created.

Another favourite use of my Mum’s, when she felt run-down, was vegemite ‘soup’; just a teaspoon of vegemite in boiling water. I used to like thinly sliced raw cabbage, garlic and vegemite sandwiches. (Sounds terrible, but very healthy and yummy.) Every kid in Australia ate Vegemite on SAO biscuits; often with tomato, and, or cheese. This combo is particularly yummy grilled as an open sandwich with Kraft sliced cheese, (the way it bubbles up and browns-off…yum!)

I’m an easy going old bloke, and I have a young lodger who gets away with murder because I “don’t give a rats” about money or anything – you could hit me with a cricket bat and I’d blink at you, LOL – anyway, he used the last of the Vegemite the other month…God he was lucky I didn’t rip his head off, LOL. Now I keep an emergency jar hidden away for myself, just in case.

Growing-up, only ‘pommies and wankers’ ate marmite; I still haven’t tasted it (excuse the language.) We all agreed the best pies were “Sergeants pies”, though we’d eat “Four and Twenty” if that was all we could get. People argued about Ford and Holden; and we’re still arguing about which code of football is best…but apart from cricket, vegemite is one of the great unifying forces – no matter your politics or standing in life, we all love our Vegemite.

What ever you do, don’t muck with the recipe too much, or you can forget about being allies. LOL.

NB. It was a national tragedy the day that Sergeants stopped baking pies. People went around buying-up the last run, and freezing them. It was very sad I remember; we mourned their passing for years, quite literally. The new ones are ok, but not a patch on the original. (Aussies used to have them flown overseas when touring.) It’s the highest praise for a pie to say it’s almost as good as a Sergeants.”

Passions certainly run high when it comes to the Mite-y wars.  I’ll always be on the side of Vegemite, and will have to keep my head low in this land of Marmite-lovers lest a low flying jar of the stuff knocks me unconscious. It’s certainly a bizarre situation, having such competition between sandwich spreads. I mean, who ever heard of such a war between Bonne Maman and another jam? Or between two brands of peanut butter? With appreciation groups on social networking sites and statues constructed of the stuff you’d usually put on toast? I don’t know. It can’t be normal.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. razzbuffnik says:

    When I was a kid, just like every other little Aussie, I loved Vegemite. Then I went overseas for 11 years and didn’t eat it once in that whole time.

    When I came back to Australia, I noticed two things had changed with my taste buds.

    The first was that I no longer enjoyed eating lamb (sorry but the smell is really off) and the second was that I found Vegemite to be really nasty greasy salty stuff.

    I guess one has to not only grow up with the stuff, but one has to stick with it.

    Now that it’s KRAFT Vegemite, I don’t feel un-patriotic about eating it. After all that’s the same company that makes the execrable KRAFT cheese that doesn’t melt.

    I don’t know if you know this, but Vegemite was nearly called Pawill (Pa will) as a pun on its predecessor’s name, Mamite (Ma might).

    Like

  2. razzbuffnik says:

    Oooops!

    I meant to say

    Now that it’s KRAFT Vegemite, I don’t feel un-patriotic about NOT eating it.

    Like

  3. epicurienne says:

    I know! A lot of people have an issue with the fact that Vegemite is now owned/ manufactured by KRAFT. As I understand it, there are also slight variations in taste between countries where it’s made/ distributed. All I know is that the Vegemite I buy in Sainsbury’s (not all UK supermarkets stock it all the time) tastes like the one I was raised with. That’s why I like it, but only at weekends…

    Like

  4. Wise Woman says:

    Marmite, apart from being food of the gods, is a very good mosquito deterrent if eaten regularly, as they hate the vitamin B. Fact!

    Like

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