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:
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.
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.
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”).
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.
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:
KJ per 100g: 690 (165 calories)
Sodium (mg) per 100g: 3310
Sugars (g) per 100g: 11.2
KJ per 100g: 798 (263 calories)
Sodium (mg) per 100g: 3450
Sugars (g) per 100g: 2.2
KJ per 100g: 1100 (250 calories)
Sodium (mg) per 100g: 3900
Sugars (g) per 100g: 1