Vegemite is a pretty versatile ingredient. The concentrated yeast extract can be used for anything from making moonshine, to stuffing Pizza Hut crust, to the base of a swordfish with Vegemite and walnut Pesto. Even Brad Pitt likes it. Sort of.
But have you ever looked at Vegemite and asked yourself: "Could I 3-D print this onto my toast and then light up LED bulbs with it?"
Probably not. But that's exactly what Marc in het Panhuis, a professor at the University of Wollongong, in Australia, asked himself one morning at breakfast. The researcher, who specializes in robotics and bio-medicine, took to his lab to see if the iconic Australian spread could be used to conduct electricity.
Vegemite, which is made from leftover brewers' yeast, is rich not only in umami flavour but also water and salts. Because of this, Professor in het Panhuis correctly assumed that it would make an ideal conductor of electricity.
So he designed a breadboard—not just a pun, but the actual lab name for the boards used as the construction base of electronic circuit prototypes—and printed some Vegemite onto a slice of white bread using fancy lab equipment.
The pasty texture of Vegemite actually makes it perfect for 3-D printing, according to in het Panhuis, who then used the paste to print his school's UWO logo onto a slice of white bread.
Naturally, the next step was not to eat it but to plug an LED light into the UWO logo and pump electricity to it. And sure enough "even on bread we can put electricity through our Vegemite", Professor in het Panhuis proudly declares in a video uploaded by his department. "This shows that we can 3-D print vegemite electronics and use it to power LEDs."
Professor in het Panhuis then unhooks the electrically-charged bread. "The big question is "can we eat it", the answer is "yes", I just unhook all the elecrtonic bits and i pick my normal piece of bread and have a bit of a munch in it. And as you can see it's pretty tasty, just like you would eat in the morning."
This project was undertaken not just to confirm in het Panhuis' breakfast table suspicions—it could actually be a medical breakthrough. Based on his results, it would seem that Vegemite is ideal for 3-D printing edible electronics and given his background in bio-medicine, in het Panhuis hopes that his discovery can be used to make "ingestible biomedical sensors that perform a function (in the stomach for example) and are then processed by the body in a natural way."
So—to recap—Vegemite has fed the people of Australia for almost a century, is a source of powerful moonshine, and may be the future of biomedicine. As if yeast concentrate weren't doing enough for humanity, the electric Vegemite experiment can also educate our children while feeding them. According to the university's Electromaterials team, "other applications for these edible electronics include kits to teach children about electronic circuits—that they can eat afterwards!"