Marmite, Vegemite, Bovril, Bragg Nutritional Yeast Flakes
Sunday, April 12, 2020
Editor’s note: Decided to take a break from the Covid-19 news coverage and present an article that I’ve been working on for about 2 or 3 weeks. Every now and then you need something else to think about and this is a fun topic.
Tl;Dr – for a comparison of the products scroll all the way down for a nice quick graphics chart.
A few months ago I was looking into designer superfoods and alternative meatless sources of nutrition. I was seeing someone that didn’t eat meat and it made me think seriously about my own dietary habits. I found that many people including celebrities actually do embrace a vegetarian lifestyle and it is healthy and ecologically or environmentally friendly in some cases.
For example, I did a small personal based research journey on yeast based products and found they do tend to contain quite a few vitamins and can add flavor and be a substitute for other products in certain circumstances.
Nutritional yeast (non-branded)
First off, what is nutritional yeast? Well, quite simply it is deactivated yeast strains sold as a food product. It is often yellow flakes but may come in powders or granules. It is often sold in natural food stores and popular with vegetarians and vegans. It is also a major source of B vitamins (B-complex, with “complex” meaning a group of the B vitamins). Nutritional yeast is described as having a cheesy or nutty in flavor and good as a cheese substitute for some. It can also be used in mashed taters or on popcorn or with tofu. The yeast is often considered savory and this is also due to the fact that they have glutamic acid.
Now some of you may have heard of Vegemite or Marmite but have you heard of Bragg’s Yeast Flakes or even about Bovril? These are additional foods that are based on local customs in certain places in the world.
Let’s describe each of these items in no particular order.
My first experience was with Marmite. This is a somewhat smoky and savory, salty brown paste that is somewhat thick and syrupy and best described as reminding me of a thick brown soy sauce. It is made of brewer’s yeast and a blend of various vegetables like carrots and is also salty. It is best to put this on white plain breads for instance or plain foods. This was one of the first products that came out and it came before the intro of Vegemite.
Marmite was developed by German scientist, Justus von Liebig in 1902 originally in the United Kingdom. It is supplied by Unilever who also is involved with a later product described in the article, Bovril.
It’s a by-product of beer brewing. Over time these yeast products have become popular worldwide and so you may also consider other similar products like Cenovis by Switzerland and Vitam-R by Germany. Marmite also has another similarly named product made in New Zealand. There’s also a product called AussieMite. These products are well known for their B vitamins, with Marmite in particular also having B12 vitamins.
B vitamins are good for preventing beri-beri which is a vitamin deficiency that was common in World War I. Due to the discovery that this product could be eaten and help prevent this deficiency it became more popular and included with rations for British troops in World War I. Anemia was also found to be able to treated due to folic acid which was also a B vitamin found in the product.
These products are typically spread thinly on toast with butter or can be served as a hot drink like Bovril, described later. Oxo is also a similar product that can be served like Bovril. Oxo is like a beef stock cube.
Sometimes Marmite can be paired with cheese. It has even found its way into alcoholic cocktails.
Most of these products do contain glutamic acid which is similar to monosodium glutamate and so those with gluten sensitivities should beware as well as those taking certain medications.
There are also special editions of the product.
Vegemite is a delicious yeast based snack that’s from Australia. It was originally part of Kraft and then became an Australian product again.
This is a thick dark brown Australian food made of leftover brewer’s yeast extract as well. It is also mixed with various spices and fine vegetables. However I find that this is a thicker and stronger, more concentrated version. It’s not syrupy but more like a thick spreadable smooth paste. It reminded me of like Asian bean paste without being grainy or gritty. If you’ve ever had sweet black bean paste you will know what I mean, but in this case it is a salty yeasty paste and not sweet.
Vegemite was developed by Cyril Callister of Melbourne, Victoria in 1922 to make use of the brewer’s yeast left over when brewing. The product is made by breaking down the yeast and creating a clear liquid extract which Callister blended with celery and onion extracts and salt to create a thick brown paste. His employer Fred Walker & Co’s daughter came up with the name for the product. The name was fiddled with for a while to try to compete with Marmite using variation of puns but unsuccessful and so the product’s name was left as Vegemite.
The brand was owned by Mondelez International which was formerly the Kraft Foods Inc but later aquired by Australian Bega Cheese group. And it also took part of the New Zealand business. This joint partnership with the Kraft company, known for its cheese products, helped improve the success of the product because the product was often given away free with other Kraft cheese products through promotions and prize competitions.
This type of spread is excellent on toast and biscuits and sandwiches and fillings. Most commonly it is eaten on toasted bread with a bit of butter or margarine. Only small amounts of the spread are required due to its strong salty flavor. Sandwiches can be made with it with two pieces of bread and often also with avocado or tomato as wll as cheese or lettuce.
The taste may also be described as slightly bitter and umami (a meaty flavor). The product is also great for people that are vegans since it doesn’t contain meat products. It is also considered halal and kosher. It is rich in various B vitamins. In fact it was officitally endorsed by the British Medical Association as a good rich source of these B vitamins and rationed in World War II and included in their supplies.
Millions of jars of the product are sold annually and it proves to be more popular than Marmite in Australia. The recipe has remained relatively unchanged.
This product can be found in jars or tubes as well. Most commonly the product contains B1, B2, B3 and B9 vitamins although there may be additional vitamins added.
Those that have gluten allergies may want to know that the product does contain glutamic acid which renders a umami meaty flavor but likely contains gluten and so you may want to proceed with caution.
The product also contains potassium and relatively high salt content.
The product was originally touted in advertising for its perceived health benefits for the young.
There are also variations of the product mixed with various cheese ingredients or chocolate and chips or crisps.
It has also been lauded by some or criticized by others in pop culture, songs, and anecdotes.
This is the only item in our main list that is NOT a yeast paste, nor is it vegetarian or vegan-friendly. This means that it IS made from animal products. Bovril is a thick and salty meat extract paste that’s also very similar to the aforementioned yeast extracts in terms of appearance and also the type of container it comes in. However it’s a red jar in this case while the others come in yellow jars. It was developed by John Lawson Johnston in the 1870s.
Most of these products come in a short thick jar. Bovril in particular can come in cubes or granules. The product can become consumed in a few different manners such as putting some in water diluted and forming a hot soup or it can also be used in other soups or broths or in combination with stews or porridges or milk, which is less common. And of course it can be used in spread fashion as similar to the above two products.
Obviously “bov-” is in reference to the cow or ox like animal that it appears to derive from.
The origins of this product involved creating a shelf stable long lasting product during the Franco-Prussian War in the Napolean the III times of 1870’s. The task of procuring massive quantities of beef went to John Lawson Johnston who was a Scotsman located in Canada, but creating something that could be easily transported was difficult so it became a liquified product with various grocers and chemists and households consuming it at least a year later.
It was considered a war time food and also a food to help warm up people. For instance according to Wikipedia “A thermos of beef tea was the favored way to fend off the chill of matches during the winter season for generations of British football fans”. It was easily dissolved in hot water and one of the only hot drinks available during various expeditions.
Mr. Lawson’s son inherited the business on death.
Instant beef stock became used in various recipes including casseroles, gravies and stews.
There was a time that beef was removed from the product as vegetarian diets became popular and there was a concern over cow diseases during one era.
The food is chiefly a British favorite.
Interestingly Marmite Limited became a subsidiary of Bovril Limited around 1990 according to Wikipedia.
Bragg Nutritional Yeast Seasoning…
I know I sort of already covered this above, but this was the version I tried first the first time. It not really that different from the other unbranded generice store kind mentioned above so you can probably save a few dollars if you bought a store brand, but for some background about the historical significance of it all, I am presenting this also.
This is actually not a spread or a paste. It is yellow flakes. It was designed via Bragg Live Foods, Inc which has been around since 1912. The creator of this and other health food products was by Paul C. Bragg who was also the founder of his Health Food Stores and other self-help books. His company is run currently by Patricia Bragg, N.D., Ph.D.
First, a little about the many behind the health food company. According to MyHDiet Paul Bragg also helped to later inspire the legendary health and fitness guru Jack LaLanne.
Paul C. Bragg according to the site had advocated alternative medical treatments and eating such as eating organic and fasting and he also devised exercise plans. He was also an early pioneer in the Health Movements or as it was termed, “Health Crusades”. He developed and opend one of the first health food stores in America and inspired others to do the same as well as create lectures on health which he used the power of radio to spread his message. In doing so he also spread to television and was the first to advocate this in this new medium of communication. He also helped create health restaurants and spas and whole new foods and supplements. You may have heard of Twin Labs and Herbalife for instance.
He also influenced Olympic medalist Murray Rose and wrote many books.
There is also an alternative version of his life history here:
If you check Wikipedia you can see an entry about his life as an entrepreneur but also as some say a “food faddist”. Some of his claims are considered controversial.
All controversy aside, because as they say let the person who is perfect cast the first stone, there are likely several other business owners that have had colorful pasts as well.
Now back to the product of nutrition yeast and its formation.
Yeasts are single-celled fungus that lives off sugar which is a carbohydrate.
They can be good sources of B12 but they have to be fortified with added B12 as the processes used to make these flakes don’t create the B12. There is a bit of protein in it the mixture also due to its cells. It also has some fiber. The powder adds flavor without using salt although it does have a bit of natural sodium.
I also read that this product may help some people with allergies although this is not fully verified and you have to also be careful about gluten allergies also.
The following site mentions the bit about season allergy relief from a “University of Michigan conducted … 12-week randomized, double-blinded, and placebo-controlled clinical trial using nutritional-yeast.”
https://www.superfoodly.com/what-is-nutritional-yeast/ It also mentions somthing about reduction of cold symptoms on the site per another study. We’re unable to do any verification of the claims ourselves on this site but you can read the article yourself above. You however should also note the possible negatives of using these and above products such as:
- allergies to yeast,
- overdosing on vitamins so be careful.
Like I mentioned above, it has a nutty, cheesy flavor. Often it can be used for popcorn toppings. It has a nickname of “nooch” which is short for the first phonemic pronunciation of “nutritional” as in “nutritional yeast”. The flakes are lighter yellow rather than the browns of yeast extracts above and not as strong a flavor.
These products are produced as yeast cultures often growing on sources of glucose. After enough of it is grown it is deactivated using a source of heat and then washed. It is subsequently dried and put in packages to be shipped. The product yeast is not quite the same as the ones used in baking and bread making.
The yeast provides complete proteins and fiber. And there is also glutamic acid found in it.
In my opinion again they taste about the same, maybe a bit floury or like crystals with maybe a bit of nutty, cheese, lightly salty powdery and maybe even teensy metallic(?) taste(?). But it feels like you’re adding a bit of umami flavor.
If you ever get a chance give these products a try and use them sparingly. Just like salt, you don’t add a lot to the foods so that they can be enjoyed as you would a condiment. For example, you wouldn’t dump a bunch of ketchup on food so you similarly would add just enough to flavor your food with these items.
Also for added homework check out Hugh Jackman’s Vegemite clip on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
Also check out the comedic alternative “How to correctly spread Vegemite” by Fairbairn Films. (Language warning if you do.) It reminds me of the old Vanilla Coke commercials in some of the script because of the word “enjoy your [insert food]”. In the commercial Chazz Palminteri and another man pull a teenager played by a young Aaron Paul into an alley when he peers into a hole. Palminteri gives the him a Vanilla Coke to reward his curiosity.
There are many other great video clips of people trying Vegemite and other products online and their reactions for you yeast paste enthusiasts. Check ’em out.
- Also I did not get to try Promite which is another yeast spread as of the time of this writing and also popular in Australia. There was also a Sanitarium Marmite brand that was about $4.30 in in Australian store and is in a red jar and not the yellow jar which may be the difference noted above because this is made in New Zealand.
- Please note, the prices on the charts used various search engines, Amazon, Whole Foods, Tesco, Asda, Coles, Aldi as of April 12, 2020.
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