x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Who dares meddle with Vegemite?

What's wrong with these people? Too hard to spread? Well, I never...

I am upset with the 300,000 of my fellow Australians who have conspired to change Vegemite. Please don't misunderstand me - I don't fear change. Heck, I voted for an Australian republic and for Kevin Rudd, the new(ish) prime minister. I even get upset when the election results of other countries seem less than progressive to me. But, like Dolly Parton's personal style and England's inability to win the World Cup, some things don't need to change. Such as Vegemite.

Since 1923, Australians have been enjoying Vegemite, the salty, dark yeast extract, on toast, in sandwiches and as a fine addition to gravies and casseroles. At first, sales were slow. In 1928, Kraft Foods changed the name of Vegemite to Parwill, a lame pun on Marmite, the British yeast extract spread. All this proved was that changing Vegemite is a move fraught with peril. Kraft soon reverted to the original name and it has been hugely successful ever since.

Generations of Australian children have been raised on this unlikely substance. The advertising campaign featuring grinning kids eagerly gobbling up Vegemite sandwiches to the jingle "We're happy little Vegemites" created a phrase that has become part of the Australian lexicon. Being a genuinely happy little Vegemite is an emotional state to which every Australian should aspire. But 86 years after the spread was concocted, Kraft decided that it was time to change the winning formula. So it consulted more than 300,000 Australians and spent nine months fiddling with the ingredients to improve something that is already marvellous.

What was disturbing about this shameful episode in Australian culinary history was the main complaint made by these people about Vegemite. Apparently, they find it too hard to spread, especially without the addition of butter. Utter bunkum. Even if you keep your Vegemite in the fridge, it spreads perfectly well. What is wrong with these people? Do they use knives made of cardboard? Furthermore, Vegemite is born to be served with butter. For years in Australia, there has been an alarming trend towards not using butter, ever. Such is the widespread fear that a little butter will cause one's thighs to become instantly elephantine that you have to ask for it in sandwich shops. Otherwise, it is assumed that you want an un-hedonistic, butter-free sandwich.

But even the most carb-free, fat-free, fun-free obsessive must concede that hot toast with Vegemite melting through the butter is one of life's pleasures. The high vitamin B of Vegemite means that if you are in need of a pick-me-up, buttery Vegemite toast is one of the loveliest ways to get those much-needed vitamins. Whether you've been burning the candle at both ends or you're a sick child having a day off school and on the sofa, the restorative powers of this meal are legendary.

To solve the non-dilemma of making Vegemite more spreadable without butter, Kraft Foods boffins concocted the bizarre solution of adding cream cheese. This adds further nonsense to an already nonsensical situation. Firstly, if someone is concerned about the extra fat ingested from adding butter, the addition of cream cheese isn't going to keep the fat intake down. Secondly, surely this scandalous cream cheese will affect the taste. Kraft is claiming that it'll taste just the same. I am not convinced. Any hint of cheesiness in the dark, salty purity of Vegemite will not do. One of the many joys of Vegemite is the choice it offers - to add cheese or not to add cheese. Sometimes, that simple, moreish salt fix is enough and no extra flavours are required. On other more daring occasions, one may want to make Vegemite on toast and then pop it under the grill with a slice of cheese, or slap a slice of cheese into the folds of a Vegemite sandwich. Adding cream cheese means it will always be a cheesy experience, whether you want that or not.

In the 1990s, Kraft Foods realised that the cheese and Vegemite combination was a popular sandwich filling and toast topping and combined the two into Vegemite-flavoured processed cheese slices. They were predictably awful and commonsense prevailed when nobody bought them - further proof that Vegemite is not to be meddled with. Apparently, the new Vegemite will be an additional product to the line rather than replacing the original. This is a small mercy, but I am disappointed in my fellow Australians for their wimpishness in claiming it's too hard to spread and rejecting the joy of buttery Vegemite toast. None of it makes me a happy little Vegemite at all.