Turn vegemite into beer? Why prisons have banned it

Tony Moore
A jar of vegemite.
A jar of vegemite.  Photo: Leah-Anne Thompson

Home-brewers take note: you can make beer out of vegemite, but it's going to taste awful. 

Researchers have debunked suggestions that Vegemite alone was being used to make cheap home brew grog in indigenous communities.

Yeast extract Vegemite alone cannot make beer, quashing rumours this was happening in Indigenous communities. However ...
Yeast extract Vegemite alone cannot make beer, quashing rumours this was happening in Indigenous communities. However with sugar and 'live' yeast, it can, UQ researcher Dr Ben Schulz has shown. Photo: University of Queensland

You can make "cheap" alcoholic home brew beer using Vegemite but only if you add sugar and a separate live yeast.

But it tastes pretty bland, it will be flat, it has no head and looks like orange dishwater.

And it has a genuinely 'vegemitey' after taste. That's what you get for 9 cents a stubby.

Vegemite alone does not make a home brew.
Vegemite alone does not make a home brew. Photo: University of Queensland

It's pretty awful stuff.

However you cannot make beer from vegemite alone, even though Vegemite is a yeast extract.

And that is the main news that University of Queensland researchers have proven.

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"You need sugar and Vegemite. And you need yeast," University of Queensland researcher Dr Ben Schulz said.

"And then all of those things together will make an alcoholic beverage, which at a stretch you can call beer," Dr Schulz said.

While vegemite is a yeast extract, it is not a "live yeast" extract, Dr Schulz said.

UQ tested the link between Vegemite and home brewing because there were claims that Vegemite by itself was being used by Indigenous communities to make home brew.

Prisons have also banned it and UQ wanted to test if Vegemite could be used by itself for home brewing.

"The rationale for that previously was that Vegemite was a good source of yeast and you needed yeast to ferment the sugar and turn that into alcohol," Dr Schulz explained.

"But, we've shown that there is nothing that is 'alive' in Vegemite. Instead the Vegemite is a really good nutrient source, it is a really good food source for the yeast," he said.

"So if you have the sugar for them to ferment, Vegemite to give the yeast extra food, then any yeast that is around will then ferment pretty effectively.

"But you need the yeast."

Vegemite - with the yeast it needs - can make a home brew with an alcohol content of between 3.5 to 5 per cent , but that is largely determined by the amount of sugar you add.

And yeast is very common. You can collect "wild yeast" from the "dust" on the skins of fermenting fruit and vegies.

UQ became further involved in the research because anecdotal reports alleged Indigenous communities in 2015 were using Vegemite as a source of yeast for home brewing.

"A student of mine, Ed Kerr, decided to test this to see if it was in fact true," Dr Schulz said.

"The confusion at the time was that Vegemite was a yeast extract and people were thinking quite rightly I suppose, that it was a good source of yeast for fermentation," he said.

But Dr Schulz said Vegemite and Marmite were both heated, treated, cultivated food-grade spreads treated with salt to kill the micro-organisms in the spread to make them suitable and safe to eat.

"So it was a little confusing to us why that would be a useful source of yeast," he said.

"And then we came around to realise that it is not because there is yeast in the Vegemite, it is because there is nutrients in the Vegemite that causes the yeast to grow."

"So you cannot make the beer from the Vegemite alone."

Commercial quantities of beer cost around $1.60 per 375ml stubby to make, while home-brewed beer at about $0.27 a stubby, the UQ research found.