Friday, 23 May 2008

Promoting Promite

Recently I wrote that vegemite was one of the spreads of choice for toast for breakfasts in my youth. Bizarrely, even though I ate a lot of vegemite as a child, my clearest memory of it doesn’t involve any real vegemite. But I thought I would share it anyway. When I was young, we had a season ticket to the local swimming pool in summer and there was a well trodden path between our house and the pool around the corner. On the road en route was a smooth patch of tar that melted on very hot days. I was fascinated by it because it reminded me of vegemite.

Like the tar, vegemite begs for you to dip a finger in its soft black depths. Or maybe it is just me! I grew up on vegemite but as an adult, I discovered promite which is similar. I have always understood that vegemite is yeast extract whereas promite is yeast and vegetable extract. Hence the extra flavour and sweetness in promite. But I was quite surprised recently when Kathryn wrote about the health benefits (or lack of) of vegemite and, comparing notes, I found that promite had more salt. But, as Kathryn said, it is eaten in such small quantities that it is not a big issue.

Vegemite became well-known overseas when Men at Work had the 1982 hit song, ‘Down Under’ with the memorable line ‘I said, do you speaka my language / he just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich.’ Australians who know and love vegemite laugh at foreigners who spread their toast thickly with vegemite and splutter at the saltiness. Because we know that it must be used sparingly. A thin scrape will suffice on a piece of toast.

When I was growing up my mum often made us vegemite and cheese sandwiches to take to school wrapped in waxed paper in my lunchbox. How I envied those with sandwiches in gladwrap (plastic clingwrap). A bit more of a treat was vegemite and walnut sandwiches. These days, Bakers Delight – a local franchised bakery – sells a popular cheeseymite scroll which brings back the memories. Vegemite also used to come in jars that when finished and cleaned made lovely little drinking glasses and were just the right size for cutting out scones. We always had quite a few vegemite glasses in my mum's kitchen.

When I searched foodblogsearch.com for promite I found there were only about 20 entries and over half were from me. What does that tell you about it? But I was pleased to see it has a Wikipedia entry, and perplexed that someone was selling a jar of it on eBay. I even found a discussion thread discussing if promite has meat products in it which includes a letter from the manufacturer claiming that it doesn’t. Phew! For a moment I feared I was going to have to face a horrible ethical choice!

I love promite on fresh bread or toast with tomato slices, cheese, mashed potato or leftover dahl. I also regularly use it in cooking in the same way you might use any vegetable extract such as vecon (and mixed with hot water it does a similar job to vegetable stock or soy sauce). It is always in my kitchen so it is a convenient seasoning. And delicious. I love it so much I will lick the remainder off the spoon.

But I know that it is not so popular as vegemite, so when looking for history and recipes, I have also searched for vegemite, which I will eat if there is no promite on offer. I know there are strong opinions about yeast extract spreads. When Pixie recently posted about marmite, the responses were a mix of love, distaste and bemusement.

Vegemite was launched in 1923 by chemist C P Callister for the Fred Walker Company to use the leftover brewers yeast from Carlton and United Breweries (CUB) in Melbourne. From 1928 - 1935 it was known as Parwill in response to the British equivalent of Marmite (if Ma might then Pa will). During World War II it was part of the Aussie soldier's ration kit. There were popular advertisements with the jingle about ‘happy little vegemites as bright as bright can be (we all enjoy our vegemite for breakfast, lunch and tea).’ But despite many claims of B vitamins, added intelligence and 'a rose in every cheek', there doesn't seem to be a lot of health benefits in the stuff. However, finding out that Promite wasn't invented until the 1950s, suggests that it is not a fair competition because vegemite had a headstart on capturing the hearts of Australians. Neither of these national spreads are owned by Australian businesses any more. (See the Old Foodie for more information about vegemite.)

A search for recipes featuring vegemite brings up some interesting ideas (be very afraid):
- Scrambled eggs with vegemite by Grab Your Fork
- Mini meat pies by Cakelaw
- Hotch potch beef stew by Cakelaw
- Lentil and marmite roast by old aussie recipes
- Vegemite risotto by Esurientes
- Vegemite gelato reported in the Sydney Morning Herald
- and I love using promite in nut roasts, dahl, gravy and stews.

But today I thought I would share one of my favourite childhood side dishes featuring vegemite. My mum used to mix mashed potato, mashed pumpkin and peas with some vegemite. I have to mix it with promite these days as it is all I have on hand but it brings back memories of meat and three veg. Mum usually served it with chops or sausages. These were the vegetables that we had regularly with many meals but they alway seemed better when mashed up together and looking slightly darker with the vegemite. The creaminess of the mashed potato blended well with the wateriness of the pumpkin. As an adult, I now understand that it also added flavour.

I made this mash tonight and served it with vegie sausages with plenty of tomato sauce. It was almost like when I was a child. This meal was loved as much by E as by me so it may become a regular easy meal in our house. I have written it out as a recipe but quantities can be easily altered to suit tastes.

I am sending it to Sarah of Homemade: experiences in the kitchen who is hosting Tastes to Remember which asks us to make dishes that remind us of childhood.

Mashed Vegetables with Promite
Serves 2

2-3 fist sized potatoes, peeled
200g pumpkin, trimmed and peeled
1 cup frozen peas
1 knob of butter
1 generous splash of milk
2 tsp promite (or vegemite), or more to taste

- Cut potato into chunks and cook for about 15-20 minutes or until soft and falling apart when prodded with a fork or knife.
- While potato cooks, cut pumpkin into chunks and microwave for about 3 minutes on high in a plastic bag or in a plastic container with the lid not quite on. NB Pumpkin is quite watery so you may need to drain some water off once it is cooked. I cooked it separately because it cooks quicker than potatoes and I wanted the mash to have a little variation in colour.
- Microwave the peas for 2-3 minutes in a plastic container or plastic bag. You may have to drain some water off the cooked peas.
- When potato is cooked mash it with butter and milk. Stir with a spoon to get some air into it.
- Mash pumpkin and stir with a spoon.
- Mix potato, pumpkin, peas and promite with a spoon til just combined. Serve hot.

On the Stereo:
y’all get scared now ya hear: The Reindeer Selection

17 comments:

  1. Great stories! And thank you for clarifying the distinction between the two (but now, I wonder, how does each compare to Marmite. . . ??). The potato/pumpkin/pea and promite (that's 4 P's!) mash sounds lovely. I'm also now curious about a cheesymite scroll! :)

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  2. Now I'm going to have to try that Johanna. Mashed vegies with promite - or in my case British marmite. Not sure, but I'm intrigued!

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  3. You remind me how I need to send out another jar of marmite ;) I also need to post a couple of marmite recipes. Time to look into that book again.

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  4. thanks Ricki - I think I have tasted marmite but can't remember the flavour enough to compare it (although I am sure I didn't like it as much as promite)

    thanks Kathryn - am sure it would work as well with marmite - E suggested it could be called Mighty Mash!

    thanks Pixie - would be very interested to see some of your marmite recipes

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  5. Ah, the lovely -mites. Isn't it funny how strongly people feel about one or the other? I'm a vegemite girl myself but my sister in New Zealand is missing her marmite fix terribly. She said she'd heard of Promite but won't try it out of loyalty to the British brand! Did you see that there's a whole Marmite cookbook around - I'm sure you could sub promite instead. Marmite is stronger, but that's about the only difference, I think.

    Someone also worried me by asking me if I could really eat marmite as a veggie. I think it's because it and its jar look like Bovril, which has beef in it.

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  6. i put vegemite in spagbog. And i must by the exception as I slather it on really really thick on toast. yummmmm

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  7. thanks Lysy - there do seem to be lots of odd myths about the mites. I'd love to see the marmite cookbook - maybe I need to write the promite cookbook :-)

    thanks Ran - you sound like a true fan - I probably slather on my promite a lot thicker than I would recommend to any stranger to the stuff but really really thick sounds impressive :-)

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  8. Huh. I had never heard of such a product, and am trying very hard to have faith in you and not be creeped out. Very hard. I trust you. But, er...

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  9. I love my Promite - better than Vegemite, in fact. As kids, we would not eat Vegemite, but happily had Promite in everything from sangers to stews.

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  10. Oh Neen - just think of putting salt in your food and it wont seem so weird to put a salty spread in it! Trust me!

    Yay cakelaw - you were probably the only other blogger on my search who seemed to have a fine appreciation of promite so I am not surprised to hear you love the stuff. When I tasted promite as a kid it was far too sweet but strangely enough I have now come over to the dark side (so to speak)

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  11. Until I met my very wise husband I thought the lyrics were "and he just gave me a bit up sandwich." I thought that was rather nasty, and then I learned about vegemite. I haven't tried it yet, but someday I shall.

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  12. thanks renae - love misheard lyrics - I do it all the time - hope you get to try vegemite sometime - it is quite an experience but go easy on the stuff!

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  13. That was a really lovely post. I love Promite as well. I have Promite on brown bread, Vegemite on white.

    Ricki my 14 year old daughter bought a scroll yesterday, actually two for lunch.

    I am sure I tried to make this as baby food once or twice.
    www.homesteadblogger.com/ourlittlehouseintown

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  14. There is this stuff Vitam R that I ate in Germany, which is the family of nutritional yeast extracts in paste/goo form. I never liked vegemite or promite, but this stuff in Germany, despite taking a little getting used to, is great. Its consistency is more like really thick honey. It depends how fresh it is. Someone brought me a huge tub of it, and even I started to get afraid of how dark it was getting, so I threw it out. Yummy!

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  15. Having been just recently introduced to Promite by a Brisbane friend who sent me some, I have to say that I immediately loved it! I'd been a Vegemite and Marmite lover for so long I can't recall (and I can't recall where here in the States I first saw/bought/tried it - I'm always trying new stuff from other countries).

    So now it's Promite all the way! I have done some taste experiments and find that Vegemite will be better in some things and Promite in others for me (she also sent a tube of Vegemite; it's pretty expensive here but I've never seen it in the tubes). I think Promite for toast and spreads and Vegemite for cooking.

    I live in Tucson, Arizona, the desert, and a heavily Mexican-populated area, with tons of Mexican food. I make quesadillas often (grilled flour tortilla with cheese and whatever you want inside, for those who might not know; I like to add tomatoes, cilantro, grilled onions, etc). Tonight, I added Promite inside with the cheese and some grilled onions. YUM! I'm thinking, too, that it'd be really great with sauteed tempeh and veggies.

    And I, too, love Promite enough to lick it off the utensil! I will quickly run out of this small container she sent (with a fab assortment of Aussie lollies and toys - I'm a 51-year old kid). I have never seen it in any international store here (and we have a LOT of them in Tucson), so may have to have her ship me a large jar or two SOON! With some more Minties and Milk Bottles, too!

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  16. This is fantastic Johanna - much more comprehensive than my summary (and with bonus recipes!). Thanks so much for the link, I hadn't seen this.

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  17. Thanks for a great blog, Johanna. We can't get Promite over here (UK), but a friend from Australia brings me a jar every time he visits (every four or five years - so I use it sparingly!). I love all yeast extracts and even collects the jars, sad man that I am. Thanks again.

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