Exploring Umami ingredients: Vegemite
Here’s why you need to start using Vegemite in your stews, soups, sauces and marinades.
Umami is often referred to as the fifth taste, rounding out salty, sweet, sour and bitter. More specifically, it is a measure of the level of glutamates in certain ingredients. These glutamates (yup, the same stuff that comprises monosodium glutamate) present to us as a meaty flavor, so it’s a natural progression that those of us who love the taste of meat would be into foods with a heavy umami profile. Examples of umami rich foods include mushrooms, cheeses, oysters and even seaweed.
I’m going to explore some of the more magical umami ingredients which should be a welcome addition to your cooking arsenal. In this edition: Vegemite!
If you have heard of Vegemite before, you probably either know it:
- because you’re Australian
- as the sandwich in the Men At Work song
- because you were fed it by an Australian who laughed uncontrollably at the painted and contorted look on your face when you took a bite of the aforementioned sandwich.
Brits will try to tell you that their inferior version known as Marmite is the real deal, but don’t listen to them.
Why do so many people think Vegemite is gross?
I’ve thought about this, and I have a theory. Aussies mainly eat Vegemite on toast for breakfast. Nearly every condiment an American would eat on toast for breakfast is sweet (EG jam, peanut butter, honey etc). So when most Americans try it without having any idea what to expect, it’s quite an unpleasant surprise that it’s not at all sweet. In fact, the opposite.
What does Vegemite taste like?
You should think of it like bouillon in a paste form. It’s extremely salty with funky, yeasty fermented notes. It’s actually similar to Worcestershire sauce or Fish sauce in that you may not want to consume it straight but it does something magical as an ingredient. For the record, most people “cut” their Vegemite with generous lashings of butter and rarely eat it straight.
What exactly is Vegemite?
It’s a yeast extract high in glutamic acid which has had a few other spices and vegetables extracts added to it. It also contains a lot of salt. In essence, it is a flavor enhancer which simply gained popular use as a condiment spread. It’s extremely thick in consistency and a similar color to soy sauce. As with any concentrate, a little goes a long way.
How can I cook with Vegemite?
Once you procure it, you can and should try it out on toast just to get an idea of flavor and concentration. I recommend using 1-2 teaspoons of it in marinades, soups, stocks and stews for a salty boost. You could even use it as another layer of flavor in barbecue sauce, or experiment with spreading it on a brisket before seasoning.
Recipes using Vegemite.
Now that you know all about it, give it a try. Vegemite is a little tricky to find but you can easily get it online and at specialty stores like World Market. Once you have it, why not try this:
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