Worcestershire sauce is a mysterious-yet-flavorful brown liquid that is a staple in most American kitchens. It is commonly used to flavor meat, soups, stews, marinades, and even beverages such as Bloody Marys or micheladas.
What Is Worcestershire Sauce?
Made from a base of vinegar and flavored with anchovies, molasses, tamarind, onion, garlic, and other seasonings, Worcestershire sauce is a fermented condiment. The flavor is savory and sweet with a distinct tang provided by the vinegar. The most common form of Worcestershire sauce is not appropriate for a vegetarian or vegan diet and cannot be used in a kosher meal that includes meat. Depending on the brand, it might or might not be gluten-free. Make sure to read all labels.
Due to the immense popularity of the original Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce, multiple varieties have been developed, each with its own unique ingredients and flavor.
- Gluten-Free Worcestershire: Lea & Perrins "The Original Worcestershire Sauce" sold in the U.S. is gluten-free as it is made with distilled white vinegar, but in the U.K. it is made with malt vinegar, which contains traces of gluten and might not be safe for consumers with celiac disease. Different brands might use either malt vinegar or distilled white vinegar. A quick check of the label should reveal if your favorite brand is gluten-free.
- Vegetarian or Vegan Worcestershire: 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 Worcestershire: Some brands, including Lea & Perrins, make low-sodium versions of the classic sauce to accommodate people who are concerned with sodium intake.
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. Sometime 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.
What Is It Made Of?
Vinegar leads the list and is included both for the tangy flavor and to preserve the other ingredients in Worcestershire sauce. The anchovies in Worcestershire sauce harken back to the fish sauces used for millennia to add umami (savoriness) to dishes as well as being a way to extend salt. The ingredient list for the U.S. version of The Original Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce includes:
- Distilled white vinegar
- Chili pepper extract
- Natural flavorings
- Tamarind extract
The U.K. version uses malt vinegar and has one-third as much sugar and salt.
What Does It Taste Like?
Worcestershire sauce tastes tangy, savory, sweet, and salty. The balance of those flavors makes it an excellent condiment. It is especially valued for adding the umami (savory) flavor, which comes from the anchovies. The spices included can vary by brand. Even within the same brand, as in Lea & Perrins, the U.S. version is saltier and sweeter than the U.K. version labeled as the same sauce.
Cooking With Worcestershire
Worcestershire sauce can be used in many ways during cooking or as a condiment. It is often used as an ingredient in marinades or is brushed onto meat, fish, or poultry as it is grilled, fried, or baked. It can be used when steaming, grilling, or stir-frying vegetables. Worcestershire sauce also can be used as a condiment on sandwiches and shellfish, or seasoning for salads and is used in soups and stews for seasoning and adding savoriness.
You will find Worcestershire sauce included in a wide variety of recipes for everything from vegetables to meat dishes, and sauces to soups.
How to Make Your Own
Home cooks can make their own Worcestershire sauce and avoid additives that may be found in commercial products. These sauces would have a shorter shelf life in the refrigerator, or they can be canned. You will need only a saucepan to simmer the ingredients, which include olive oil, sweet onions, tamarind paste, garlic, ginger, jalapeños, anchovies, tomato paste, cloves, black pepper, dark corn syrup, molasses, white vinegar, dark beer, orange juice, water, lemon, and lime.
Prior to opening the bottle, Worcestershire sauce can be stored at room temperature. Once the bottle is opened, it should be refrigerated to preserve flavor. The general shelf life of Worcestershire sauce is approximately two years, after which it might begin to lose 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.