Vegemite and Hot Cross Buns: A Rose By Any Other Name

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
–Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Today, my friends, two stories from the Land Down Under.

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, two young teenagers—Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet—meet and fall in love.   Their relationship is doomed from the start, since their families are enemies. Juliet tells her beloved Romeo that names are meaningless—that she loves the person who is called “Montague” and not his name and not the Montague family.

You know the rest:  Romeo, deeply in love with Juliet, rejects his family name and vows to “deny (his) father” and instead be “newly baptized” as Juliet’s lover.  The great tragedy is set in motion.

This classic work was brought to mind today, as I read of not one, but TWO implausible stories emanating from Australia—both involving a product name change.


The first is Kraft Foods’ iconic VEGEMITE, that dark brown Australian food paste made with brewer’s yeast.  Vegemite is one of the world’s richest known sources of B vitamins, specifically thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid. It contains no added fat, sugar, animal content or gluten.

In the weeks leading up to Australia Day (January 28), and to celebrate its 89th year, Vegemite is rebranding its jars to become simply “Australia.”  The new limited-edition brand will feature a map of Australia in place of its familiar red diamond-shaped logo.

Vegemite’s marketing director believes that this show of “contemporary Australian pride” will benefit the company.  That remains to be seen, since its last attempt at rebranding—a cheesier version of the snack which they called “iSnack 2.0”—was met with huge public backlash after only five days on the shelves.

Here in the U.S., not everyone is familiar with Vegemite; but it’s been enjoyed around the world for almost 90 years.  The success of the spread was due largely to a 1954 marketing campaign by J. Walter Thompson featuring smiling, happy and healthy children singing a catchy jingle, “We’re Happy Little Vegemites.”

We’re happy little Vegemites
As bright as bright can be.
We all enjoy our Vegemite
For breakfast, lunch, and tea.
Our mummies say we’re growing stronger
Every single week,
Because we love our Vegemite
We all adore our Vegemite
It puts a rose in every cheek.

If you’ve always wanted to know more about Vegemite, check out the original report.

But moving on to another name change:


Father Tony Kennedy, pastor of Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Burnie, Tasmania, has called for “Hot Cross Buns” to be called… well… simply “buns.”

Last week, as the Christmas season wound to a close, Woolworths and Coles supermarkets across Australia stocked their shelves with hot cross buns.  With thirteen weeks remaining before Easter, Father Tony explains that hot cross buns were originally eaten on Good Friday to remind people of the crucifixion.  If the sweet, fruit-filled hot cross buns are available year-round, Father Tony fears, their religious significance will be lost.  He asks the stores to remove the crosses, call the buns simply “buns”—and then sell “hot cross buns” just one day a year, on Good Friday.

Coles has responded, saying that it’s up to shoppers to decide how they would mark religious holidays.  Last year, the store chain sold more than 800,000 six-packs of hot cross buns during January alone.  It remains to be seen whether the Aussies will give up their hot cross buns until Good Friday!

By the way, Wikipedia offers an interesting report about the tasty treats.  The website quotes cooking writer Elizabeth David, who claims that Protestant English monarchs saw the buns as a dangerous hold-over of Catholic belief in England, since they were baked from the dough used in making communion wafers.  After unsuccessful efforts to ban the buns, Queen Elizabeth I passed a law permitting bakeries to sell them only at Easter and Christmas.

According to Wikipedia, English folklore includes many superstitions surrounding hot cross buns.  One of them says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or become moldy during the subsequent year.  Another encourages keeping such a bun for medicinal purposes.  A piece of it given to someone who is ill is said to help them recover.

Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if “Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be” is said at the time.  Because of the cross on the buns, some say they should be kissed before being eaten.  If taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns are said to protect against shipwreck.  If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly.  The hanging bun should be replaced each year.

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