What does pink taste like?

Musk sticks

Musk sticks are, I think, a peculiarly Australian sweet.

Actually, I think the whole "musk" flavour may only exist here.

I used to love musk sticks when I was a kid.

(I'll spare you the tediously wholesome story about carefully buying lollies with my pocket money on the holidays and making them last as long as I could and the milkman's cheery whistle and so on.)

So I bought some, the other day. Every Australian supermarket has them.

It turns out that I still like musk sticks. But because the sticks I ate when I was a kid had been sitting, unwrapped, in the shop for some time, I prefer them a bit dried out and crusty. The second comment on this post about musk sticks at Candy Blog indicates that I am not alone in this preference.

(I found that putting the sticks in a colander on top of a heating vent for a couple of hours dried 'em out nicely.)

That Candy Blog post, though, and the previous one about musk Life Savers, alerted me to the strangeness of these sweets.

Here in Australia, there are musk sticks, and musk Life Savers, and little hard musk pellets too. They're all pink, and they all taste the same, and I cannot for the life of me tell you what they taste of.

"Musk", here, does not indicate some flavour that started out being squeezed from some animal's glands. Well, not unless that animal had a sort of... flowery... smell, anyway.

I haven't actually smelled any natural musk, so perhaps it's amazingly similar to the candy smell. People grasping for words to describe lolly-musk often say it's "perfume-y", after all, and natural musk was used as a perfume component.

But since natural musk is alleged to smell "animalic, earthy and woody", I don't think it can really be much like the lolly musk.

I agree with the memorable observation that musk lollies smell a bit like an old lady's handbag.

But that doesn't really get it right, either.

Musk sticks actually smell, and taste... like musk sticks.

If pressed, I might venture the opinion that they taste pink.

It's sort of like that weird "bubble-gum flavour" that emerged as an entity unto itself at some point.

If you've never tasted "musk" and get the opportunity - without having to pay $25 for an air-mailed bag of the things, of course - I highly recommend it. You probably won't be crazy about the taste, but this is not one of those confrontational "local delicacies" like salted liquorice. (Which is, of course, not salted with mere sodium chloride - it's got ammonium chloride in it!)

The taste of a musk stick will hang around in your mouth for rather a while, but you probably won't be unhappy about that. It's pretty inoffensive.

This all reminded me that here in Australia, we really don't have any big guns in the "local delicacy" wars.

No hákarl...

...no lutefisk, no hundred-year-old eggs or casu marzu or balut.

OK, there are witchetty grubs, but it's not as if most of the Australian population have ever even seen one of those. And in any case, I'm told that witchetty grubs are actually quite delicious, if you can get over your irrational fear of eating an arthropod that doesn't happen to live in the sea.


Vegemite is the ISO Standard Weird Australian Food, but I'm here to tell you that it's really not that peculiar. Wipe a smear of Vegemite on a cracker and bite into it and you'll be experiencing an odd savory foodstuff, not some incredible brain-flipping toxic creation.

I was born and raised on Vegemite and so spread it on my bread like mortar on a brick, but in more moderate amounts, Vegemite is really not that big of a deal.

And I think that's pretty much it for weird Aussie food. I mean, what else is there for even the least adventurous tourist to get bothered about? Meat pies? Pie floaters? Sausage rolls?

Heck, even Chiko Rolls aren't that bad if, as with the witchetty grubs, you don't think too hard about what you're eating.

And not a lot of people find themselves retching after being cruelly forced to eat a lamington or pavlova, or even a Moreton Bay bug.

Am I forgetting anything? Has Australia actually managed to come up with any truly confronting food?

37 Responses to “What does pink taste like?”

  1. boredblogtrawler Says:

    As someone who has been in Australia about as long as you have, I beg to differ on the vegemite thing ... c'mon, it's just a horrid black mixture of yeast and salt .

    ... and yes, there is one (I think) truly confronting Australian food:

    Found inside thin paper bags made translucent by the inexorable leaching of grease from the unmentionable lurking within ... quietly lying in wait for the unsuspecting traveller, undisturbed for countless months under the jaundiced yellow of faded heat lamps ... on the vile filthy surface of the bain marie in the near-deserted road-house ... it's the dreaded, the horrible ...

    Chiko roll!


  2. morrieD Says:

    We don't even eat horse! Here in my local Swiss supermarket, there's a whole range of horse bits in the meat section, under the Canadian brand 'Horse Line' - catchy name!
    When I explain to our Continental cousins that us ozzies, like the brits, don't eat dogs and cats either, I get "But it's so healthy, lean meat!", etc.
    Still, tastes OK, nothing weird about it, it's just getting over that I'm eating Pharlap moment...

    They don't exist anywhere else I've been, they're a bit like Chiko Rolls for anonymous meat content, but drown the buggers in enough soy sauce and they're yummy!!!

  3. D Says:

    The Vegemite flavour is really an australian thing... I'd never force any Overseas visitors to try it, I refuse to go near the stuff! the slightest taste on a used knife is enough to send me running..

    Musk sticks on the other hand... I must buy a packet of those on monday!

  4. Red October Says:

    I'm American but I've always wondered what Vegemite is like... Never seen it, but would pick it up if I could. I'm not afraid to eat weird things; I love Dim Sum and always make the old Chinese ladies smile because I will eat the chicken feet. They're quite savory, apprently most of my countrymen seem to find them unpalatable for some reason. Bugs, though, I wouldn't eat. Well not the kind you have to eat whole, but that's a texture issue, not a "ZOMG! Bug!" issue. When you get down to it a lobster is just a bloody big bug, and I love those things.

  5. OCT Says:

    I think I'd liken Turkish Delight most to the flavour of musk sticks.
    Not much else comes closer than that.

  6. Bern Says:

    Actually, I bought a pack of Coles brand musk sticks recently, and I, too, found them rather soft & mushy. Definitely worth springing for the more expensive variety... Or, as you said, leaving them out to dry for a while.

    Right now, I have some of those little yellow bananas. Oh, and some salted macadamias, but that's hardly weird.

  7. Chris Lineker Says:

    Look what you did Dan


    I went to the supermarket after reading this post, but the proverbial cupboard was bare. I had to settle for some of the adjacent 'Fruit Flavoured Sticks' which had a few musk sticks in the pack, mixed with other exciting flavours like green and yellow.

  8. jani Says:

    I'll tell you what musk sticks taste like.

    I was 4 years old and loved my triple salted liquorice [I think we may have located the source of the problem... -Dan] when i arrived in Australia, and my mother made the mistake of buying a pack of musk sticks at the supermarket one day. I bit into the pink crumbly but still moist inside thing expecting a lolly of uncommonly good taste, but instead was assaulted with what could only be described as an overpowering taste of soap exploding in my mouth. I complained to my mother, who tasted one of the offending musk sticks and returned the packet to the supermarket also convinced the things were off or made incorrectly.

  9. Stefans Says:

    How does Vegemite compare to Marmite? I'm told they're "similar," but I don't think I've ever had Vegemite. Marmite is a big thing here in the UK: The slogan is "you either love it or you hate it," and the current ad series seems to be mostly people hating it, which is always kinda odd to see in an ad. Personally, I think it's alright, but that's because I like to be difficult.
    Musk sticks sound...interesting. If I see some, I'll give it a try, but as you are on the other side of the world, I doubt they'll filter round.
    The oddest things I've ever eaten were in Japan, and that's probably because I don't speak a word of the language and they wanted a laugh. Cartilage kebabs, raw octopus, tendon stew and wasabi ice cream.

  10. arteitle Says:

    Could the "musk" flavo[u]r refer to muskmelon? The colo[u]ration of the packaging reminds me of the North American cantaloupe of which I'm particluarly fond, and now that I think about it, cantaloupe does taste a little like bubbblegum.

  11. kamikrae-z Says:

    OCT - Turkish delight is generally flavoured with rose water/syrup (which actually IS made from rose) which probably explains why you think they taste similar - they both have a "perfume"-like flavour. I actually quite like the "turkish delight" jelly found in chocolate bars although it tastes quite different to the real thing. I think it's close to the musk flavour but not "musky" enough.

    My favourite musk candies are the hard pellets - I think that Darrell Lea sell them - I like 'em once they go a bit soft - shove a fistful into your face and it's sort of like eating flavoured icing sugar lumps.

    I also wanted to mention that some plastics (can't remember which ones) have a very sweet aroma - if you ever pass by a manufacturing plant and you think it's Willy Wonka's factory you may be disappointed...
    But it might go some way to explaining about how some artificial flavours are created.

  12. moetop Says:

    While the page looks a bit generic Yahoo vendor. I did find it offered here in the US. Shipping for 1 bag and a small jar of vegimite was not $23. Both of the items including shipping was about $18

  13. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    Being from the USA, I must say that both Lamingtons and Pavlova sound remarkably good... and I'm now possessed with a desire to try Musk Sticks. Dry, flower-flavored Twizzlers? Sign me up!

    You folks can keep your fried-mutton-in-a-tube though.

  14. Jonadab Says:

    I haven't had vegemite, but from every description I've ever heard it *sounds* worse than lutefisk and sauerkraut combined. Just saying.

    [Yeah - my point is that because Vegemite is the weirdest stuff a foreigner is likely to find in an Australian pantry, it's gained a notoriety it does not deserve. I'm sure some people have such a strong expectation that Vegemite - or Marmite, for that matter - will be super-freaky that their reaction to it would be the same even if it actually turned out to taste the same as peanut butter. I can easily see how people wouldn't like Vegemite, since it certainly is strongly flavoured and quite unlike other common "sandwich spreads", but it's not anywhere near as powerfully weird as many European and Asian "local delicacies". -Dan]

    If you want a place that doesn't have any bizarrely inedible unique local delicacies, you want the midwestern US. Vanishingly close to 100% of our cuisine is imported from somewhere or another, and though we have been known to make some minor adjustments (e.g., our goulash always has noodles in it and generally takes about fifteen minutes to make), we aren't really known for unique and unusual cuisine.

    So, sure, there are lot of bizarre foods available around, here, but they're pretty much all foreign. Come to think of it, a fair percentage of the really outlandishly weird delicacies are of French origin (moldy cheese, raw meat, snails, blended liver, that sort of bilge). We can also get vegemite and lutefisk and caviar and lox and whatnot, if we want them.

  15. pipTheGeek Says:

    Marmite and Vegemite taste almost the same. It is possible to buy Vegemite here in the UK and I believe that it is the same stuff as the aussies have.

    If anyone cares, I love it. I also like Bovril as something to put on toast.

  16. com2kid Says:

    Minutes ago, I failed at eating scrapple, given the tameness of its ingredients compared to some of the other mentioned foods, I will not plan on signing up for any gross food eating competitions.contender in

  17. cambo Says:

    My Dad, originally from Adelaide (Yes, Dan we all know your opinion of Adelaide), was sent to the Canadian arctic for 2 years during the 70's to study lemmings (in those 2 years he caught exactly 2.5 lemmings... don't ask about the .5). Anyways, he'd had a year's worth of supplies sent up in advance by ship during the ice free summer and they'd left the supplies in a re-enforced shack for him to get during the winter. Unfortunately the shack wasn't re-enforced enough and a Polar bear got into the shack and had eaten anything even remotely edible out of the supplies. It had chewed though the cans to get to the food inside, eaten the toilet paper, and even chewed on my dad's spare batteries to lap up the acid inside them. The one thing the bear had refused to eat, or even touch... was Vegemite.

  18. dr_w00t Says:

    What about Bonox?

    My old man used to have Vegemite on toast and a cup of steaming Bonox for breakfast. He was a drover and a stock inspector for 40 years.

  19. tantryl Says:

    There's Kangaroo and Emu meat as well as Emu eggs. But Kangaroo meat is delicious and Emu is decent. The eggs are a bit strong for my liking but if you're into flavoursome eggs then more power to you.

    I'm told there's a pizzeria near the centre of Sydney that does a "Coat of Arms" pizza including the above ingredients. But again I'm told that it tastes great.

    I have eaten witchety grubs. Live. Not bad. But I prefer my food a little less crunchy and a lot less squirmy.

    We get some crocodile meat dishes here, but they're not specific to Australia.

    Australia isn't particularly culturally independent (speaking as a 4th generation Aussie), we borrow almost everything from places like England, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and areas of SE Asia. There's the aboriginal culture but that's been pissed on from a great height and doesn't really enter into the majority of the populations perception (in the same way you don't instantly think of Native American culture when you think of the USA - you think of cheese in a tube and Disneyland, culturally speaking).

    I know Swedish and other Nordic people look down on pumpkin for some reason (horse food?), whereas it's a roasting staple here.

    But yeah, I'd say Vegemite is the only distinctive thing. For our foreign friends I think I saw it best described as beer reduced/evaporated down to a paste with a bowl of salt mixed in. I like it. Especially with a poached egg. Toast + vegemite + egg. Om nom.

  20. Stump Says:

    As someone originally from England but has lived in Australia since he was 8, marmite tastes closer to Promite not vegemite.

  21. j Says:

    "You folks can keep your fried-mutton-in-a-tube though."

    I figure you're talking about vegemite and not chiko rolls.

    But vegemite is (as its name suggests) derived from vegetable matter, not animal matter. Probably some ways down the line from the original plant, but nonetheless.

    Marmite is (according to the thickiepedia article) suitable for vegans, but really, who can tell?

    I suspect part of the foreign animosity toward vegemite can be attributed to Nutella and similar "confectionary masquerading as a spread".

    These, along with peanut butter and *shudder* "jelly", are often spread on thickly with the anticipation of a largely sweet experience.

    Vegemite *looks* almost sweetly delicious. It's not.

    But will that stop yanks from spreading it on an inch thick? Oh no.

    And then they start jumping to conclusions about us trying to poison them.

    If you'd just followed the directions - buttered toast, *thin smear* of vegemite on top - then you'd have a much more pleasant experience.

  22. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Oh, yeah, that's a thought. Vegemite does look quite like Nutella. And if you're just having a joke at the expense of a visitor, feeding them a sandwich that's 60% Vegemite by weight will indeed get the job done.

    You could probably make the point by giving them one of those tiny smallest-possible-jars of Vegemite and explaining that it ought to last a newbie through at least one whole loaf of bread.

    (Vegemite can also, by the way, be had in a toothpaste-like tube, these days. This will not surprise Northern Europeans, who are used to all sorts of foodstuffs coming in tubes, but I doubt any Australians buy the tubes unless they're going camping. The tubes would be a good lightweight and durable package for sending to friends overseas or taking home as a souvenir, though.)

  23. Red October Says:

    I remember vividly going to Hawaii and eating the poy. Poy is built up rather the same way Vegemite is; as something alien and decidedly disgusting and inedible. I have no clue what it is made from, but it is a sort of goo that is eaten on the first two fingers. Everyone tried it and I'm sure quite a few got what they were expecting simply because they expected it. It wasn't bad. Granted it wasn't good either, but I could have certainly worked my way through a given volume for an equally given sum of money. Now I must seek out Vegemite and attempt to eat it.

  24. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Poy (or poi) doesn't sound too bad. I am happy to say that it passes the most important test for flavourless glop consumed on Pacific islands: Nobody has chewed it once already.

  25. unfunk Says:

    I find a lot of foreigners are quite confronted by the idea of eating Kangaroo, but they'd probably see the light after eating it (although perhaps not if they had to smell it first).
    I have some Emu in the freezer that I'm going to have to eat sooner or later, but at $25 for 300g, I want to be sure that it's going to be good...

  26. Coderer Says:

    If you want to ease a "yank" into eating *mite (heh), get a nice hearty piece of fresh-baked bread, butter liberally, and apply a thin smear of the spread over top. Great, great stuff -- I've made a meal of just that before. If they sold a tub of butter-Marmite mix, I'd probably keep one in the fridge at all times.

    Also, put a good sized glob of *mite into vegetable or beef soups or stews; better than bullion at really upping the flavor of the dish.

  27. unfunk Says:

    See, I think that the very idea of mixing butter & vegemite should be grounds for being charged with treason.

    And for whoever asked what the difference is between Marmite & Vegemite; Marmite comes across as being sweeter, and Vegemite is definitely saltier... Marmite also tastes more.. "vegetably" than Vegemite, IMO...

  28. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    "I figure you’re talking about vegemite and not chiko rolls."

    No, I mean the mutton'n'vegetables-in-a-roll. Vegemite is salty-ass beer-making remnants or something.

    I do want to try *mite.

  29. mookers Says:

    I am an American ex-pat living in Australia and I happen to like vegemite. I also like mouldy cheese, chicken feet, and all sorts of other weird foods. Haven't tried witchetty grubs though.

    I absolutely HATE musk sticks. They taste exactly like the perfume smells (ie. reminiscent of some ox gland...) The flavour lingers in your mouth and it's horrid.

    Of course, the fact that my mum's signature perfume has been musk-based for donkeys years probably has something to do with the fact that I can't stand the thought of eating it...

    'Nuff said.

  30. Stark Says:

    My father (American), who spent most of his teenage years first in England and then in Australia, loves both Vegemite and Marmite. I find both of them edible but not something I seek out on a regular basis. My father, on the other hand, has some most days - usually on an English muffin. He has also been known to make a Vegemite, ham, and Miracle Whip sandwich.

    My father is a strange man.

    And yes, I have indeed tried said sandwich, and as far as I can tell it's like a eating a week-old dead possum, with added salt.

  31. Jonadab Says:

    > Vegemite *looks* almost sweetly delicious. It’s not.
    > But will that stop yanks from spreading it on an
    > inch thick? Oh no.

    Ah, now that makes sense to me. It sounds a lot like the difference between ketchup and mustard. You can bathe your food in ketchup, because it's not a strong flavor; whereas, mustard is something you want to put in in smaller amounts. If vegemite is in the latter category, people who try to treat it like ketchup would understandably have an adverse reaction.

    I should probably take the plunge and actually try the stuff some time, and then I could form a personal opinion about it, one way or the other. It's something I'd have to go out of my way to obtain and try, living in Ohio, but hey, I went out of my way to get pepper extract sauce, and I like that (albeit, in very small amounts).

  32. Red October Says:

    I like strong food (Habañero pepper sauce is a normal condiment for me), strong beer (I like Guiness and similar dark beers) and dark bread (I suppose most of you Aussies shun the few Outback Steakhouses that have showed up in your own land since they must seem hopelessly goofy to you, but I like them and they serve a very dark bread that is quite good), so it sounds like Vegemite is right up my alley. Now just the problem of where to get it in the US...

  33. Stark Says:

    Red October - My father buys his here: http://www.simplyoz.com

    He usually goes for the 2.5 kilo pail but I'd suggest you try something a bit smaller first! I've asked him to include a packet of the "B&G Musk Sticks" ($2.95) in his next order. Any of you native Musk Stick eaters know if this brand is decent? I'd hate to have a poor opinion of them because I got some notoriously bad brand.

  34. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Black and Gold is a supermarket non-brand, like the "Coles" ones in the picture above.

    No-name brands can be very bad for some kinds of lollies, but I think all musk sticks are very much the same. Many supermarkets seem to only have no-brand musk sticks.

  35. Byrn Says:

    Hm. Not tried pink, but is it anything like violet? They too have a perfume-like flavour, and tend to be a mildly like/dislike it sort of thing...

  36. Byrn Says:

    Sorry to double post, but could this be the source of the "musk" flavour? Its apparently native to India, which while not exactly close is not a million miles away from you, it is claimed that the seeds are similar smelling to animal musk, and they're even used in cooking....

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