What Is Worcestershire Sauce?

Condiment Developed by British Chemists Lea and Perrins

Worchestershire Sauce
Worchestershire Sauce. mechnine/Flickr/CC 2.0

It's a mysterious yet flavorful brown liquid that is a staple in most American kitchens, but what is Worcestershire sauce?

Worcestershire sauce is a fermented condiment made from a base of malt vinegar and flavored with anchovies, molasses, tamarind, onion, garlic, and other seasonings. The flavor is savory and sweet with a distinct tang provided by the malt vinegar.

Worcestershire sauce is commonly used to flavor meat, soups, stews, marinades, and even beverages such as bloody mary's or micheladas.

Worcestershire Sauce History

Worcestershire sauce as we know it today was developed by two chemists, John Lea and William Perrins, in Worcester England. While trying to develop a vinegar based seasoning sauce Lea and Perrins abandoned their first batch, which they deemed unsuccessful, and stored it in their basement. Some time later, they discovered the bottles, tasted the sauce again, and found that through fermentation the flavor had developed into a deliciously complex savory sauce.

The popularity of this fermented sauce quickly spread and by 1837 the sauce was fully commercialized. Today the Lea & Perrins brand of Worcestershire sauce is sold in over 75 countries worldwide and several manufacturers have produced their own version of the savory sauce.

Worcestershire Sauce Varieties

Due to the immense popularity of the original Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce, multiple varieties have been developed, each with its own unique ingredients and flavor.

  • Gluten-Free Worcestershire - Most Worcestershire sauces are made with malt vinegar, which contains gluten and may not be safe for consumers with celiac disease. Alternatively, some sauces are made with spirit vinegar, which is naturally gluten-free. A quick check of the label should reveal if your favorite brand is gluten-free.
  • Vegetarian or Vegan Worcestershire Sauce - The original recipe for Worcestershire sauce includes anchovies, which are not included in vegan and most vegetarian diets. With the popularity of animal-free diets, multiple brands have begun to make anchovy-free Worcestershire sauce. These brands usually have "vegan" or "vegetarian" prominently displayed on the label.
  • Low Sodium - Some brands, including Lea & Perrins, now make low sodium versions of the classic sauce to accommodate people who concerned with sodium intake.

How to Store Worcestershire Sauce

Prior to opening the bottle, Worcestershire sauce can be stored at room temperature. Once the bottle is opened, Worcestershire sauce should be refrigerated to preserve flavor. The general shelf life of Worcestershire sauce is approximately two years, after which it may begin to loose flavor and aroma. Most Worcestershire sauces will come with a "best by" date printed on the bottle, which indicates when the best flavor and quality can be expected.

Homemade Worcestershire Sauce Recipes

Home cooks can make their own Worcestershire sauce, having control over the ingredients and avoiding additives that may be found in commercial products. These sauces would have a shorter shelf life in the refrigerator, or they can be canned.