Friday, January 4, 2008

Vegemite and Beer

In many previous beer bits I have endeavoured to track down some of the many ways in which the world of beer crosses paths with other elements of our lives. You may also have noticed that it doesn’t take much more than a tenuous thread of linkage for me to get onto the research and put together some fun facts and foolish figures.

Upon one of these paths travels a product that is synonymous with Australia and yet strangely is one which is repugnant to many overseas visitors. Its path and the path of the beer world do not merely cross, but run in parallel and are intrinsically enmeshed.


It is both a by product of the brewing process and a complimentary food match in more ways than one. It shares a symbiotic relationship with the amber nectar and it holds a special place in the Australian cultural landscape.

Discovered or developed or created by Australian food technologist Cyril P Callister in 1922 and marketed by Fred Walker, a Melbourne businessman, Vegemite was a thick dark paste scraped from the bottom of the barrel (so to speak) at Carlton & United Breweries. This paste came from the fermenter which housed the cooled wort during the fermenting process. The yeast which brewed the beer settled to the bottom of the fermenter after the wort was chilled. Some of this product was re-used in the next batch and some went off to Fred and his chemist to see what he could make of it. He made Vegemite. A previously discarded waste product of brewing.

Fred pushed his new product as a health food, despite the fact that the early stuff was around 10% salt, as an additive for soups, stocks, sandwiches and gravies. A slow start to the products popularity was countered when infant welfare centres began promoting it as a rich source of Vitamin B1, B2 and Niacin for little folk. A still used radio advertising campaign began in 1954 and a whole generation of ‘happy little Vegemites’ was born and raised on this thick black beery sludge. Walker sold his company to Kraft Foods after WWII and in 1988 Kraft was sold to Phillip Morris. Despite this, Vegemite is still iconically Australian.

But what of this ‘symbiotic relationship’ of which I spoke earlier. If I am going to throw in big words like that then it seems fitting that I follow them up and temper them with real words and explanations. We don’t want people to stumble upon our Secret Men’s Business Site and think that we are a bunch of pretentious private school wankers, do we? Just in case, hold on while I scare them off.

Right. That should do it. Where were we? Oh, yes, symbiotic relationship. Beer and Vegemite. It goes something like this.

Vegemite comes from the reaction of brewer’s yeast on the fermentables in the wort. The yeast creates CO2 and alcohol by eating up the sugars. The brewer makes the beer and Kraft makes the Vegemite. We drink the beer. In metabolizing the alcohol in the beer we use up vitamin B1 and B2 as a result of a reaction with the residual sugars which created the waste which became the Vegemite. We can feel a little ordinary the next day due to a lack of B1 and B2. The very Vitamins that Vegemite is chock-o’-block of. We eat the Vegemite and replace the B1 and B2 that the beer took away using the very stuff that was made from the beer that took it away after giving up the stuff that made the Vegemite! Simple!

So that’s Vegemite and a brief history of its life as, and with, beer. If only all our food choices were as straightforward and as good for you as Vegemite. Then we could drink so much more beer. Followed by Vegemite.

Prof. Pilsner

1 comment:

Vince said...

I heard/read somewhere that Coopers brewery supplies the yeast extract used in Vegemite now.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, makes me hungry and thirsty at the same time.