As far as food battles go, few could be said to represent such patriotism as the breakfast table barney between the British, and original, Marmite, and the far superior version known as Vegemite, brewed on the magnificent colony of Australia.
As referee in the ring I shall try to remain impartial, but as an Aussie mongrel, I think you can gather what side I’ll be leaning to. Words aside, it’s high time we throw these two mighty spreads into the proverbial cage and let them go toe to toe, round for round, and find out just who has the salty minerals to take the title. Let’s get ready to rumble.
ROUND 1 – THE NAME
It was the German scientist Justus von Liebig back in the late 19th century who first discovered brewers yeast could be concentrated, bottled and eaten. Total legend. The product that would later become Marmite was put into production in 1902 when the Marmite Food Extract Company set up its factory in Burton upon Trent in England. By 1907, the product had become so successful they built a second factory in Camberwell to meet demand. The word ‘Marmite’ comes from a French term for a large, covered, earthenware pot – Marmite was sold in these very pots until the 1920s when they changed to the glass jar shaped like a marmite dish that is still used today.
Vegemite, on the other hand, and other side of the world, was invented in Australia after the disruption of Marmite delivery to Australia after the Great War. Never let a war come between a man and his breakfast they say. There was a national competition to find a name for the rip-off product (not like the Aussies to steal anything) with the winners’ names drawn from a hat by a girl named Sheilah. Struth, doesn’t get much more Aussie than that. The winners were twin sisters who for the rest of their long lives were known as ‘The Vegemite Girls’.
French terminology for a very British spread over a girl named Sheilah and the vegemite Sisters? Sorry fans, but vegemite takes the first round.
VEGEMITE 1 – MARMITE 0
ROUND 2 – MARKETING CAMPAIGNS
Coming out of the corner hard on the marketing front is Marmite. While both spreads were flogged during their early PR lives as a rich source of vitamins once ‘vitamins’ were discovered in 1912, probably the most significant campaign of its long life has to be the ‘love it or hate it’ campaign that has since led to the British vernacular saying ‘The Marmite Effect’ for anything that provokes such strong and polarised feelings.
In comparison, Vegemite, after initially suffering from poor sales, changed its name in 1928 to ‘Parwill’ with an accompanying advertising campaign of ‘if Marmite, then Parwill’, playing on the parental ‘Ma & Pa’ angle. Pretty lame if you ask me, and the Fred Walker Company, who manufactured the product, clearly felt the same and changed the name back to Vegemite some years later. By 1937 Vegemite had developed a beefy pong of desperation to be accepted and ran a national limerick competition offering prizes that included Pontiac cars to help promote the fledgling product. This worked and finally after a quarter century, Vegemite had finally found a mate in the homes of millions of Australians.
However, the blistering Marmite effect uppercut dropped Vegemite to the canvas and the second round goes to the original from the motherland.
VEGEMITE 1 – MARMITE 1
ROUND 3 – ANNUAL SALES
22 million jars of vegemite are sold in Australia every year while 50 million Marmite jars are sold in Britain per annum. Break that down per capita and vegemite wins the round quickly with a one- two combination.
VEGEMITE 2 – MARMITE 1
ROUND 4 – NUTRITIONAL VALUES
Both Marmite and Vegemite are very similar in taste and nutritional values with both having high levels B vitamins and glutamic acid that creates the strong umami flavour. For those who don’t know, umami is the new addition to the cornerstones of our flavour palate, along with sweet, sour, salt and bitter flavour receptors of the tongue and is best translated to ‘a pleasant savoury taste’.
To compare the two, let’s go mano è mano across each of their respective nutritional strengths and weaknesses.
VEGEMITE 3 – MARMITE 1
ROUND 5 – THE TASTE TEST
Vegemite Marmite Vegemite Vegemite Marmite Marmite Vegemite
In order to remain impartial we found three people who do not eat either Marmite or Vegemite. Let it be known we had to search far and wide to find these people. We blindfolded them and gave them each a slice of toasted bread with butter and a smearing of the black stuff from both corners and asked them to rate each and explain their findings. Here’s what they said:
1. Marmite; “Fuck! That tastes like shit!”
2. Vegemite “Fuck! That’s even worse than the first one.”
1. Marmite; “It is horrible! It tastes like fish sauce.”
2. Vegemite; “This is horrible too, but not as bad as the first one.”
1. Marmite; “Wow, that is salty, but actually I don’t mind the taste.” 2. Vegemite; “Phoa, that’s salty too, but I prefer it to the other one
– I’d eat that on toast for breakfast.”
VEGEMITE 3 – MARMITE 2
Like a yeasty Ashes Urn, there is no love lost between these two legends of the condiment world, however, I’m extremely delighted to say that the winner, by split decision, is Vegemite.
Feel free to voice your opinion on twitter at @rootandbone