Chicago, Illinois, United States
Marmite and Vegemite are similar but not quite the same. Both are classified as spreads and are typically spread with a knife on bread or crackers. They may be regarded as cousins and are both derived from yeast. Marmite, though discovered by a German, is a product of the British Isles. Vegemite comes from Britain’s erstwhile colony, Australia.
Marmite was discovered by Justus Freiherr von Liebig (1803–1873) as the residual sediment from the yeast used in the manufacture of beer. It was developed commercially in England as the Marmite Food Extract Company in Staffordshire (1902) and later in London (1907).1 Its recipe remains a trade secret. It became widely popular in Britain and was issued to the troops during World War I. It can be purchased in stores in most countries of the world.
Vegemite was launched in Australia in 1923 by the Fred Walker Company under a name selected after a nationwide competition. Sold as a competitor of Marmite, it had a slow and precarious start and required rebranding several times, but eventually prevailed locally over its British competitor. It seems fair to point out that both are an acquired taste. Compared to Marmite, Vegemite is thicker like peanut butter, darker, and slightly more bitter, its initially off-putting taste requiring it be spread only thinly. There are also slight differences in the various vitamins and other ingredients they contain.2
Marmite occupies a special place in medical history. Its use by Dr. Lucy Wills in successfully curing an outbreak of a macrocytic anemia of pregnancy in India led to the discovery of folic acid.1 Vegemite, with over 22 million jars sold each year, has become one of the symbols of Australia’s national identity.
- Franklin JL. “Marmite: its place in medical history, Lucy Wills, and the discovery of folic acid.” Hektoen International, “Blood”, Spring 2022.
- Anna Kang. “Is There A Real Difference Between Marmite And Vegemite?” TastingTable, April 15, 2022. www.tastingtable.com/834245/is-there-a-real-difference-between-marmite-and-vegemite/.
JAMES L. FRANKLIN is a gastroenterologist and associate professor emeritus at Rush University Medical Center. He also serves on the editorial board of Hektoen International and as the president of Hektoen’s Society of Medical History & Humanities.
GEORGE DUNEA, MD, Editor-in-Chief