Although it’s most (in)famous in sandwich form, Vegemite is one of the most useful ingredients you can have in your pantry. Pure umami, it adds depth to meat, mushroom dishes, and soups — it’s also wonderful with cheese. It’s particularly useful when you’re cooking for vegetarians, and want to add richness to a dish without a lot of the nasty off-flavours of vegetable stocks, that often include celery, garlic, and onion powder. It can hang out in the background (as in cheddar-onion pie) or take center stage (cheesey-mite bread!)
Vegemite is one of those things that most people (Americans at least) regard with horror, and a strong conviction that they won’t like it. They might say things like “It’s an acquired taste”, or “I guess you have to be raised with it.”
It’s not clear where this strange misapprehension comes from. Possibly because of the contrast between the Nutella appearance, and the savory taste; or maybe because it’s too-often featured in “weird food” lists (I think those things need to be banned — BRF).
It might be just because the first taste non-Australians have of Vegemite is often a complete overdose. This is equivalent to doing shot glasses full of soy sauce, or chewing an OXO cube. If you’ve never had it, try it first, thinly spread on buttery toast: let Hugh Jackman show you how it’s done. Or a melted cheese open face sandwich, with a slice of tomato. Or, dissolve a little bit of it in hot water, and drink it like a cup of soup.
Vegemite is basically just a very highly condensed stock, made of yeast. (As an aside, start reading labels — most commercial stocks and soup powders have lots of yeast. Because it’s delicious.) At the risk of offending the British, Vegemite is superior than Marmite in almost every way, at least for cooking. It’s less sweet, and doesn’t have as many fake vegetable flavours.
Besides toast and sandwiches, it works in food in much the same way as soy sauce (without the fermented flavour) or beef stock (without the meat). Dissolve it in hot water, and add it to pasta sauces, soups, gravies, or stir fries. If you’re unfortunate enough to buy Trader Joe’s organic chicken stock (aka “water that tastes like a chicken might have once been in the general vicinity of it”), add a few spoonfuls of Vegemite to it, so that it tastes like something.
Vegemite was invented by an Australian to deal with a Marmite shortage during WWI. Yeast extract is a rich source of B vitamins, and so it was considered a health food, and included in the rations of soldiers. It didn’t really take off, though, for years until the 1960s, after some concerted marketing. But now it’s as iconic an Australian as Skippy, Dame Edna, or Shane Warne.