Vegemite Turns 100: A Look Into the Australian Cultural Icon

By Claire Wilson

November 15, 2023

“It’s horrible,” was how Barack Obama described Vegemite, a beloved Australian condiment, in 2011. His take on the spread is not uncommon, at least not outside of Australia. Australians love Vegemite, but almost no one else does. Cayucos resident Rick McNellie, who moved to the States from Australia as an adult says, “Foreigners hate it because they don’t actually know how to properly apply it on a piece of toast… it’s something that only Australians have grown up with and it’s something that only Australians enjoy.” In her article Vegemite as a Marker of National Identity, Kay Richardson writes, “Vegemite may be the best predictor of national identity of any food in the world. That is, if you eat Vegemite, you are almost certainly Australian."

Vegemite is a black savory spread made from concentrated brewer’s yeast, a substance collected during the process of beer making. It’s typically spread on buttered toast or crackers and is often eaten at breakfast. Vegemite was developed by Cyril Callister, an Australian food technologist, in the aftermath of World War II when Marmite imports to Australia were disrupted. Vegemite entered the market in 1923, but did not sell as well as expected. In an attempt to boost sales, from 1928 to 1935, Vegemite rebranded as “Parwill,” and used the slogan “Marmite but Parwill." This was also unsuccessful, and the company quickly reverted to Vegemite. Thanks to several marketing campaigns in the following decades, Vegemite slowly gained popularity, and by the late 1940s was used in 9 out of 10 Australian homes. 

Photo credit: Amy Derrick

Vegemite was originally marketed as a health food for children because of its high vitamin B content. (Photo credit: The Australian Women's Weekly/Trove)

Vegemite has been known to partner with food brands such as McCain’s Pizza Pockets, Taco Bell, Domino’s, and Green’s brownie mix. These strange collaborations have led to mixed, but generally positive opinions from Australians. On their website, Vegemite has a recipe page, with dishes such as Vegemite and cheese spaghetti, Vegemite pho, Vegemite nachos, and even Vegemite popsicles. The Vegemite popsicles were met with disgusted backlash from Australians and non-Australians alike. 

On October 24, 2023, the spread turned 100. The company remade its original “Happy Little Vegemites” advertisement in celebration of 100 years. The advertisement features Trish Cavanaugh, who starred in the original advertisement when she was 7, and uses clips from the original ad. This is an iconic commercial for Australians, and it was a big part of the marketing campaigns of the 1950s which led to Vegemite’s initial success. Vegemite is celebrating 100 years by releasing Vegemite merchandise such as clothing and jewelry, and, most notably, a limited edition silver Vegemite jar, which sold out in just four hours. These jars have sold on Ebay for hundreds of dollars and are predicted to increase in value. 

Vegemite is a highly important symbol of Australian national identity. “Vegemite is one of the clearest markers of cultural identity that has yet been reported, and… early exposure is an important, though not necessary, condition for acquiring a taste for it,” writes Richardson. And this must be the case because for decades Vegemite has been a staple in 90% of Australian homes, while other nations push it away in disgust. Vegemite’s ability to become a national symbol and remain a favorite for 100 years is truly a testament to the importance of this condiment as an Australian icon.