Vegemite—the seemingly innocent, salty spread that elicits both patriotic worship and vitriolic hatred in the food’s native Australia—might be being used to make moonshine. The situation is so bad that Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion called the food a “precursor to misery.”
Scullion recommended that the Australian government restrict Vegemite sales because its base—brewer’s yeast—was being used in bulk to make moonshine, according to the BBC.
Vegemite is a a dark brown paste made from brewer’s yeast, vegetables, and spice additives often used on top of toast. It’s nutritiously dense and affordable, with a rich, smoky flavor that’s often described as “umami.”
Many Australian indigenous communities face high addiction rates, and booze is banned in these communities to combat alcoholism. “Our priority has always been to get kids to school, make communities safer and get people into jobs. Businesses in these communities … have a responsibility to report any purchase that may raise their own suspicions,” Scullion said.
Despite Vegemite’s quirky history of being a wartime replacement for Marmite, its transformation into booze has some serious consequences: Scullion noted that children were failing to show up to school from Vegemite-moonshine hangovers, and the ale derived from moonshine has been cited as an instigator in some domestic violence cases. The Sydney Morning Herald reported some people buying up to 20 jars at a time.
The proposed Vegemite ban has drawn some critics, including Dr. John Boffa of the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition. “We’re talking about an isolated problem in a couple of communities around a very large nation, and a nation where there is a very large number of Aboriginal communities, and every community is different,” Boffa told the BBC.