New Zealand Marmite versus UK Marmite versus Australian Vegemite: The Great Taste Test

© Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013

Never before have these three existed side by side in my house, though I’ve tried them all at one time or another.

I favour NZ Marmite, but the factory in Christchurch was closed in November 2011 as a result of damage done by the earthquake in February that year, and when stocks ran out, I had to make do with Vegemite. Recently, the factory started production again, but supplies have not yet reached our supermarket shelves in Australia. A kind friend from Hawke’s Bay on NZ’s North Island took pity on me and sent me two jars of Marmite. Another friend, from Sydney, decided I hadn’t really lived until I’d tasted again the superiority of British Marmite, and he sent me a special jar of limited-edition UK Marmite Gold, “blended with gold coloured flakes”. Thanks, dear friends—you know who you are.

People are deeply divided over these three. In my early adult life, I ate Vegemite until the mid-1990s, when a NZ friend also living in Australia told me she much preferred Marmite. I hadn’t eaten it since I was a child, but when I did, I never again bought Vegemite unless stuck.

These three spreads baffle and disgust the uninitiated, especially Americans. If you’ve never tasted any of them, they’re almost impossible to explain to you. They are savoury, and there’s a meaty taste, which might account for the myth I heard as a child that Marmite was made from meat by-products (as opposed to Vegemite, which was supposedly made from vegetable by-products). In reality, all three are made from yeast extract with various flavourings added. The myth must persist, because Sanitarium still feels the need to write “100% vegetarian” on the NZ Marmite label.

So this Saturday morning, I decided to do a taste test. I bought a freshly baked loaf of pane di casa  and cut three thick slices, spreading each with a little olive oil spread before adding—sparingly as is best—a layer of Marmite, Marmite Gold or Vegemite accordingly.

Here is my verdict:

NZ Marmite

Consistency: sticky and gooey, but not runny.

Taste: Balance of salty and sweet.

Best way to eat: on toast or plain bread with butter or margarine, accompanied by a cup of tea.

UK Marmite

Consistency: viscous but runny like golden syrup.

Taste: extremely salty – a little goes a long way.

Taste: sophisticated, probably more enjoyable for adults than children.

Best way to eat: on crackers with gourmet cheese. The nutty, slightly sweet cheeses such as gruyere would work well.

Vegemite

Consistency: like margarine; not runny or gooey.

Taste: quite salty, and less complex than either of the others; a bit bland after the other two, which is probably why it has been marketed at parents for children (see the Happy Little Vegemites ad here).

Best way to eat: in a sandwich with cheese and lettuce, or just solo with margarine. This very Australian-style sandwich was even written into a hit song. Down Under, by Men at Work (“He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich”).

The verdict

Though I still love my NZ Marmite, the UK Marmite, being quite a different product, could exist with it in the cupboard happily. NZ Marmite is comfort food; UK Marmite is rather a shock to the palate at first, but I could acquire a taste for it as a pre-dinner snack with a glass of wine. Vegemite? Nothing wrong with it, but it’s still my least favourite.

Marmite pasta?!?

© Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012

My version of Nigella Lawson’s Marmite/Vegemite spaghetti

Yes, it’s true, and there are several versions of spaghetti with a Marmite or Vegemite sauce. The British chef Nigella Lawson was asked by an Australian interviewer last year if she had a recipe using Vegemite. She said yes, because she had made Marmite pasta, so it could be easily adjusted for Vegemite. I have made Nigella’s Marmite spaghetti several times and it is truly delicious (my version is pictured above). If you use Vegemite or UK Marmite, add a small amount of sugar, but don’t add sugar if you’re using NZ Marmite. Here’s my effort, adjusted from her recipe. I added sugar-snap peas, parsley and slivers of red capsicum for colour. You can find Nigella’s recipe here.

Which has the least calories?

Surprisingly, NZ Marmite has fewer calories than UK Marmite or Vegemite, even though it has the most sugar. Here’s the run-down:

NZ Marmite

KJ per 100g: 690 (165 calories)

Sodium (mg) per 100g: 3310

Sugars (g) per 100g: 11.2

Vegemite

KJ per 100g: 798 (263 calories)

Sodium (mg) per 100g: 3450

Sugars (g) per 100g: 2.2

UK Marmite

KJ per 100g: 1100 (250 calories)

Sodium (mg) per 100g: 3900

Sugars (g) per 100g: 1

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About-face

This post is part of A Word A Week Challenge: Face, run by A Word In Your Ear.

Akha hilltribe woman, Doi Suthep, Thailand, 1991, by © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2011. Acrylics on canvas board.

Akha hilltribe woman, Doi Suthep, Thailand, 1991, by © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2011. Acrylics on canvas board.

I met and photographed this Akha hilltribe woman at a village on Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, in April 1991. Twenty years later, when I first took up art as a hobby, I decided to paint her portrait.

She always stuck in my mind, because she was the only Akha living in a Lisu village. Through the guide, she told me she was aged 39 and had three children.

I had been living in Nonthaburi, central Thailand, since December 1990 and we had taken advantage of the songkran (Thai new year) holiday to travel up north for a few days.

The Lisu village we visited was a set-up for tourists really. I still have my journal from that time, in which I’ve written that the Lisus usually live in isolated villages high in the mountains, but this village had been persuaded by an elephant training centre to relocate within a half-hour trek of them so they could bring in tourists to buy their arts and crafts.

In those days, the village had no electricity, no running water, no TVs or even radio. In the past, the hilltribes relied on opium as their cash crop, but the Thai government had banned its sale, so they had to find other ways to make a living.

Lisu hilltribe woman, Doi Suthep, 1991. Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann 1991.

Lisu hilltribe woman, Doi Suthep. Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann 1991.

This woman was also at the Lisu village, sitting in the same hut as the Akha woman. They were both doing some sort of needlework.

Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann, 1991.

Merchants at a Hmong village, Doi Suthep, Thailand. Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann, 1991.

The next day, we went to a Hmong village that was not so far up the mountain and that we could drive into. This husband and wife were among the stall-holders there. All the adults then wore traditional dress and—even though there was an element of showmanship for tourists—I found the images unforgettable. Children at the more isolated village we had visited also wore traditional dress—at least for the cameras—but at the Hmong village, many were wearing T-shirts and track pants.

In my journal from that time, I’ve written about the Hmong village: “There was no road to the village until 12 or 13 years ago, and villagers once went to Chiang Mai only around once a year. Now they go more often, but still they resist development, although we did notice a pick-up truck in one garage.”

They resist “development” no longer, it seems. In November 2012, more than 21 years later, I returned to the Hmong village. These days, there are no traditional costumes to be seen, just jeans, T-shirts with marketing logos and other ordinary Western clothes. There are pick-up trucks everywhere. Most people speak English as well as Thai.

The village market today is full of the same “hand-made” crafts you can buy in Bangkok, Phuket, or anywhere else. There are still people assembling these goods, but they seem to come ready-made in large batches, to be quickly pieced together on site. Someone is making  a fortune, and it’s surely not the hilltribe people.

Angry Mr Smith: A Parable

'Venice Beach, sunset', pastel painting © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012

Mr Smith was an angry man. There didn’t seem to be any good reason for his anger: it just was.

He felt angry when his neighbour got a bigger, newer SUV than him; he felt angry when his brother got the latest smart phone and boasted about all its apps; he felt angry when the woman over the road bought a cinema-sized TV screen; he didn’t feel happy for colleagues who got promotions—he felt only anger that HE hadn’t got that promotion; he felt angriest of all when the neighbour with the big TV sold her house and moved to a much bigger one in a better suburb closer to the city.

Mr Smith took his anger out on random people he didn’t know. One day, as he was driving his big vehicle with its bull bars on the front, a woman in a small car cut across in front of him, and he had to brake suddenly. He made a point of driving up beside her at the next intersection.

“Where did you get your licence, lady—out of a cereal packet?” he shouted, shaking his fist.”

“Sorry,” she said, genuinely.

“Aw, get stuffed,” he said, and roared off.

The woman, Ms Jones, knew she had made a mistake, and she really was sorry. She was not herself today because her faithful dog had died that morning unexpectedly, and she was driving home from the vet’s surgery. Of course, Mr Smith couldn’t have known that, but Ms Jones cried all the way home, and felt very alone—more so since she had made a mistake while driving and had been shouted at. All she wanted today was someone to be kind to her.

Eventually, Mr Smith became a manager at his work, and was in charge of 20 people. He was always finding fault with them—most of them were so useless, he thought.

When the sales figures came in for his first year, they were well below what they had been the year before, under kind Mr Tickle. Mr Smith was furious, and he made a plan to get back at the staff. “This will teach them,” he said, fuming. Then he called his staff together and told them their work was not good enough and that they would have to work harder, and take a pay cut, if they wanted to stay. And three of them would have to go anyway: Mr White, Ms Green and Mr Brown. These three had always been very hard workers and had been with the company for many years.

Mr White had had some bad luck: he had a chronic illness for which he needed expensive medication. Even though he had sold his car and his house, when he lost his job he knew he would no longer be able to afford this medication. A year later, he died. Mr Smith said they couldn’t send a card or flowers to his family, because everything the company did had to be cost-effective. And anyway, Mr White no longer worked at the company, so it was not like he was an employee.

One day, Mr Smith had a heart attack, a big one. The doctors told his lovely wife and their three adorable children that he might not pull through and that the next 24 hours would be crucial.

They kept a bedside vigil: although they knew their husband and father was an angry man, they loved him all the same and wanted him to live. The children, Sam, Eliza and John, stood on the left side of the bed, holding his hand. His wife, Jane, sat on the right side, holding his other hand. As Mr Smith stared up at the loving faces, they all started to glow like moonlight; but they were gradually going out of focus, and he knew he was dying.

Without warning, he saw in front of him a burst of forked lightning, and, like a huge wall of TV screens, videos from all his angry outbursts appeared before him, all running together. Beside each screen of him being angry was a video of his victim. There he was, shaking his fist at the errant driver, Ms Jones, and there she was, sobbing as her faithful dog died in her arms. There was Mr White, being told by Mr Smith to pack his things and leave the building immediately; and there was Mr White, dying in pain because he couldn’t afford the medical attention he needed. On and on it went.

All the screens disappeared again, and Mr Smith could just faintly see through the white mist the faces of his wife and children.

Suddenly, he got it—the point of life, and he knew he had failed miserably. He had brought children into the world, but he hadn’t done anything to make the world a better place for them, and for their children and their children, and so on. In fact, he had made the world a worse place for them.

Sorrowfully, he admitted to himself that he had done nothing but take from the world and had let his anger be directed at innocent people who did not deserve it. He had made lots of people miserable. He had been greedy, arrogant and mean.
And now, tragically, just as he saw the error of his ways, it was too late to do anything. If only he could have a second chance to mend his ways. If only he hadn’t left it this late.

Slowly, the faces of his wife and children were coming back into focus. He could not speak to them, but he could squeeze their hands just slightly.

The doctor said he would live for now, but he must change his ways and give up work, and even then, he might not have a long life. Luckily, Mrs Smith had a job, and they decided that if they sold their house and bought a cheaper one, they would be all right.

When he returned home, Mr Smith thought about how he could best use his remaining time. He knew he wouldn’t be able to do anything big, or world-changing. But something was better than nothing.

He had been advised by his doctors to exercise every day, so each afternoon, he set off on an hour-long walk, to the end of his street , where there was a park beside the beautiful beach. Along the way, he smiled at every person he saw and wished them good health. Sometimes, he could see the sorrow and lack of hope in their eyes. But actually, there was barely a person who didn’t smile back just a little.

Before too long, Mr Smith found himself whistling a tune as he walked along. This brought smiles to the faces of passers-by, too. Often, he would see the same people in the same places, and they would exchange a few words. After a while, Mr Smith’s walks turned into two- and even three-hour outings, he had so many friends along the way that he talked to.  They would often tell him their troubles, and he would listen to them. Often, it was dusk by the time he walked home again, and he grew to love this peaceful time of the day, the sinking sun sparkling across the water.

Five years passed, and Mr Smith’s doctor said he was a walking miracle.

 Mr Smith was happy with his life, but he wanted to do something more. So he wrote a book about what he had learned, and how he had once been an angry man, but that nearly dying had helped him to change. He called his book A Walk in the Park.

The book was a runaway success, and it sold a million copies. Mr Smith decided to give most of the money to the park, for all his friends to share. As a result, they set up outdoor chess tables, a speaker’s corner, children’s swings and slides, and a cafe where anyone could have lunch for free.

Soon, other people in various suburbs started to follow the idea in their own neighbourhoods. Then other cities and other states caught on. Mrs Smith and the now almost-grown children were very proud of him, but, mostly, they were so pleased that he was such a happy person to be around. They hardly remembered the angry Mr Smith from years ago. And still, Mr Smith went on his daily walk to the park, smiling at every one he met.

Against all the medical predictions, Mr Smith lived to 95, eventually dying peacefully in his sleep. His local park was renamed Smith Park, and a statue put up in his honour—a man walking along, whistling a tune; a happy man who had made a difference.

Painting: ‘Venice Beach at Sunset’, pastels on board, © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012.

Thailand: kaleidoscope of patterns

Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok

Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok

Like Sara Rosso at The Daily Post, I am always inspired by the colourful, highly detailed and often surprising patterns of Thailand. This is the subject of my entry in The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Pattern.

My parents and brother visited me in 1999 when I was living in Thailand, and I always remember Mum said that when they returned to Melbourne, she missed the colours and shapes of the temples and other buildings of Thailand.

When I was there in November last year, I took many photos of the intricate patterns I saw all round me, both man-made and natural. I intend to use them to inspire abstract paintings.

Here are some of my photos from our trip, which took in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Chiang Saen, and a painting to finish, of a temple wall mosaic at the Grand Palace, Bangkok.

Chair detail, in-room at Dusit D2, Chiang Mai

Chair detail, in-room at Dusit D2, Chiang Mai

Basket detail, Thai Farmer House, Chiang Mai

Basket detail, Thai Farmer House, Chiang Mai

Floor tiles at Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

Floor tiles at Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

At the lush gardens of Queen Sirikit's Bhubing Palace, Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai.

At the lush gardens of Queen Sirikit’s Bhubing Palace, Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai.

 

Temple Wall detail, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Temple Wall detail, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Grand Palace, Bangkok

Grand Palace, Bangkok

Temple tile details, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Temple tile details, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Detail, temple wall, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Detail, temple wall, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Wooden carving at Wat Doi Suthep

Wooden carving at Wat Doi Suthep

Golden umbrella with intricate lacework at Wat Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai

Golden umbrella with intricate lacework at Wat Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai

Photo ©Caron Dann, 2012

The Serene Hotel at the Golden Triangle, near Chiang Saen, with views across the river to Laos and Myanmar.

My painting of tile detail at the Grand Palace, Bangkok. Pastel on board.

My painting of tile detail at the Grand Palace, Bangkok. Pastel on board.

Recreationist Theory

GrandCanyon

This post is written in response to Kozo’s monthly peace challenge at everyday gurus

When I was about 10 and living in Los Angeles, my parents took me and my brother to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon. Though we came from New Zealand, a land of majestic and awesome scenery, we were aghast at the sheer size of the canyon. When I first got out of the car, for some reason I thought that in front of me was a giant billboard painting, it looked so surreal. “No, it isn’t a painting,” my mother replied. “It’s real.”

I now live in Australia, but I went back to see the Grand Canyon in 2009. You know how when you’re a child, things look enormous, and then when you revisit as an adult, they look so much smaller? This was NOT one of those moments. The big GC was every bit as magnificent as I remembered.

More recently, I saw a remarkable documentary series on America’s national parks, then I found the photos I had taken on the last trip, and I was inspired to try to paint the Grand Canyon as I’d seen it in my mind’s eye as a child.

I am a novice painter and the Grand Canyon is notoriously difficult to paint, but whether the painting is any good or not is irrelevant, really. The point is, the Grand Canyon reminds us of the great beauty in nature that we should be celebrating every day. Painting the Grand Canyon was a creative challenge that I set myself and which took concentration and effort, and trying some bits again and again.

This, I believe, is how creativity can help make a more peaceful world. When you are trying to create or recreate something beautiful, whether it be in an image or in words, whether a piece of writing, a painting, a photo, a sculpture, a garden or a hundred other things, your mind becomes peaceful and focused on the task.

Perhaps it is something to do with that idiom, “Idle hands make the devil’s work”.