What Are the Ingredients in Worcestershire Sauce?

Exotic tamarind is one secret ingredient of Worcestershire

Tamarind paste
Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

Have you ever wondered what exactly is in Worcestershire sauce? You may wonder the secrets of its flavor or you might want to screen it for ingredients for which you have a food sensitivity. Learn what ingredients go into making it and how they influence how it tastes.

How Worcestershire Sauce Is Made

The original recipe for proper Worcestershire sauce basically consists of anchovies layered in brine, tamarinds in molasses, garlic in vinegar, chilies, cloves, shallots, and sugar. After sitting for two years with periodic stirrings, the mixture is sifted of the solids and bottled.

Now a mostly generic term, Worcestershire sauce is currently manufactured by many different commercial retailers, as well as under the original Lea and Perrins label. HP Sauce is another type of brown sauce, so named because the sauce was reputedly spotted in the Houses of Parliament. It's similar but not the same as authentic Worcestershire

Interestingly, the version of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce sold in the U.S. differs from the U.K. recipe. It uses distilled white vinegar rather than malt vinegar. In addition, it has three times as much sugar and sodium. This makes the American version sweeter and saltier than the version sold in Britain and Canada. 

Worcestershire sauce also is a key ingredient in original (authentic) Bloody Mary mix.

What Ingredient Sets Worcestershire Sauce Apart?

The ingredient that really gives Worcestershire sauce its unique flavor is tamarind, the fruit of Tamarindus indica or Indian date in Arabic. The pods, somewhat resembling a brown pea pod, contain a thick, sticky pulp which has a consistency of dates and a spicy date-apricot flavor. Although often referred to as tamarind seed in recipes, it is only the pulp surrounding the seed that is used.

Tamarind fruit contains more sugar than any other fruit but that's balanced by its high acid content, which gives it that sweet/sour taste. It can be eaten raw or cooked and is also available in dried slices, concentrate, paste, balls, and solid block forms.

Although a pale imitation of the flavor of tamarind, lemon juice is a suggested substitution in a pinch, but know you will not have an authentic flavor without tamarind. In addition to Worcestershire sauce, tamarind is an ingredient in seasonings, curries, chutneys, and various drinks.

Although it has not been proven to grow hair, as the old wives' tale has it, tamarind does have medicinal value as a mild laxative. A natural refrigerant with cooling properties, tamarind is used as a drink to ease fevers as well as a refreshing, cooling summer drink.

Variations of Worcestershire Sauce

  • Gluten-Free Worcestershire: The popularity of gluten-free diets may be one reason that the U.S. version of Worcestershire sauce is made with distilled white vinegar rather than malt vinegar, which contains gluten. To be sure your Worcestershire sauce is gluten-free, check the label.
  • Vegetarian or Vegan Worcestershire Sauce: The anchovies in the original recipe for Worcestershire sauce are eliminated for vegan or vegetarian versions. This will usually be prominently displayed on the label. 
  • Low Sodium: Lea & Perrins and some other brands produce versions lower in sodium for those on a low-sodium diet or who simply don't like things as salty.
  • Homemade Worcestershire Sauce: It's relatively easy to make your own sauce, but it does involve a long list of ingredients. You can experiment to leave out the gluten-containing ones or the anchovies.