If I had to pin-point the exact moment when I realised that my daughter is Aussie as, I couldn’t go past her lunchbox. She begs for a Vegemite sandwich every single day.
I, on the other hand, have to be in the right mood for Vegemite on toast. It’s an acquired taste thanks to its unique umami flavour.
Umami (pronounced “oo-MA-mi”) is yet another word we have borrowed from the Japanese: うま味. Literally translated, it means “delicious savoury taste”. While the Western world identified the four types of taste – sweet, salty, sour and bitter – aeons ago, the fifth taste of umami is a recent addition.
In 1908, Kikunae Ikeda, a chemist at Tokyo University took note of a particular flavour found in foods such as meats, asparagus, tomatoes, cheese, mushrooms, soy and, above all, dashi (seaweed stock). His research led him to zone in on glutamate, an amino acid, which gives us this distinctive savoury taste. Yes, the same thing found in the infamous MSG!
Today, you can recognise the taste of umami every time you sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on your pasta or dip your sushi into a bowl of soy sauce. And when your kids ask for Vegemite on toast…
Here’s what I wrote recently for iVillage Australia. See if you can spot today’s word ‘umami’ in it.
Australians. To the rest of the world, we’re a bunch of beach-loving larrikins who love our beer and barbie as much as our Acca Dacca and Aussie Rules – you know, the usual stereotypes. And we play along… We’re cool like that.
But there’s one thing the world does NOT get: our all-abiding, all-encompassing, all-embracing love for Vegemite.
“What is it?” they ask, peering into your jar of Vegemite, their faces a mixture of cation and curiosity.
“It’s Vegemite,” you answer. That should explain it, right?
“It looks like something from the deep dark depths of the earth’s underbelly…”
Well, we are from the Land Down Under and this is our black gold.
“But is it a vegetable spread?” they question, latching onto the ‘vege’ in Vegemite.
Sure! If you consider yeast to be a veggie…
“Yeast!?! The only ‘yeast’ I know of is a yeast infection.”
TMI! Just Too. Much. Information.
“No, please tell us, what’s it really made from?”
The procedure goes a little something like this: Deep in the red centre of Outback Australia, we first crush the shin bones of a red kangaroo (roadkill) and mix this with the beak of a sulphur-crested cockatoo. We then add some possum poo and sprinkle this with the eggs of a red-back spider. Very nutritious. Rich in Vitamin B.
“You’re kidding, right?”
We never joke about our Aussie animals. We might eat them, though…
“Vegemite smells kind of… strange,” they object, wrinkling up their noses.
You, my friend, have just smelt the savoury deliciousness of Umami – the fifth and most fascinating type of taste after sweet, salt, sour and bitter. Acquired taste and all that. You should do it you know, acquire some taste.
“Hmph! This surely can’t be good for you,” they state, a tad supercilious.
Good? What’s the the superlative form of good? That’s right, it’s GREAT! And eating it makes us happy little Vegemites. 🙂
“Now we’re getting somewhere. How are you supposed to eat this goop?”
Glad you asked, mate. Follow the #1 rule of Vegemite: Less is More. Think of JLo at the recent Billboard Music Awards. Now hold that thought and transfer it to your buttered toast.
“Is Vegemite that unpalatable that I have to fantasise about JLo while eating it?”
No-no! Think of her dress – it was barely there. That’s how you scrape Vegemite onto your toast: very skimpily. Just a hint of it will take you to heaven.
But don’t take my word for it. Just watch this video of our very own true-blue Aussie Hugh Jackman showing Jimmy Fallon how it’s done. My heart just melted a little. Just like Vegemite on my hot buttered toast.
So tell me, do you like Aussie stuff like Vegemite, Tim Tams, Anzac biscuits – and Hugh Jackman? Out of the five types of taste, which one does your tongue favour?