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Vegemite

Vegemite and acquired taste

No interesting cooking to report lately; at least, I’ve been cooking a little but nothing new, nothing I haven’t blogged about before. But on Friday I got to try Vegemite. One of my co-workers is from Australia and brought in a big tub for Australia Day, along with some bagels and cream cheese. So I tried it, and I kind of liked it.

“Kind of” is the operative term here. Vegemite is clearly an acquired taste, but I think I could acquire it. I spread a thin layer on a bagel; a little goes a long way. Vegemite is a thick, dense spread made from brewer’s yeast and vegetable ingredients. It has a very complex flavor: sour and tart, with a kind of underlying pungency. On the sesame bagel, the flavor was sharp and strong. With a bit of cream cheese, the flavor was less challenging; the cream cheese added a different layer of tartness but also lessened the impact of the sourness, and the creamy texture made the Vegemite taste easier to handle as well. Nichole says that in Australia it’s most common to spread Vegemite on toasted wholemeal bread with butter, and I think the rich flavor and fatty texture of the butter would make the whole thing easier to process as well.

Acquired taste is a funny thing. For most people, some foods are simply not enjoyable at first experience — coffee, for example. But for whatever reason — cultural pressures, a desire to feel grown-up and sophisticated, sheer morbid curiosity — we try the flavor again and become used to it, perhaps mixing in other foods to make the overall flavor more acceptable. Milk and sugar in coffee, soda water in whiskey, lemon juice in oysters. And eventually we acquire the taste.

That said, a lot of our co-workers were not ready to acquire a taste for Vegemite. Which isn’t surprising; the American palate is far readier for sweet food than for bitter and sour ones, and Vegemite isn’t in our mainstream so there’s no cultural incentive to adapt to it the way one would to coffee. But if you have come to enjoy strong dark-roast coffee, or aged whiskey, or kimchi, you can probably bring Vegemite into your repertoire too if you give it a chance.