Vegemite is the registered brand name for a black, salty food paste mainly used as a spread on sandwiches and toast, though occasionally used in cooking. It is based on a yeast extract. Invented in 1922 by Australian Fred Walker, it is now produced by Kraft Foods, a multinational company owned by the Phillip Morris group. Its taste and manufacture are similar to the British Marmite, and indeed the product was for a short time known as "Parwill" as a (rather unfunny and unsuccesful) pun on Marmite's name.
Whilst highly popular in Australia and New Zealand, it has never been successfully marketed elsewhere; although available in Britain it is unable to contend with the strong brand image, and ubiquity of Marmite. It is (apparently) notorious for the dislike it generates amongst some foreigners who try it, particularly Americans. Those unfamiliar with it are recommended to try a small amount spread on toast, however, it appears to be very much an acquired taste.
Vegemite's rise to popularity was helped by highly successful marketing campaigns in the 1940's, using groups of smiling, attractive healthy children singing a catchy jingle entitled "We're happy little vegemites". Indeed, many Australians still use the phrase "happy little vegemite" to describe such children. Re-edited versions of the original advertisements and jingle continue to be used today for their appeal to patriotic nostalgia.
Many non-Australians became aware of Vegemite's existence as it was mentioned in the lyrics of Down Under, a song that became a worldwide hit for the Australian pop group Men At Work in the early 1980's.