What Is Worcestershire Sauce?

Uses, Benefits, and Recipes

Tamarind paste

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Worcestershire sauce has a distinct flavor, yet it can be challenging to identify its complex list of ingredients simply by the taste. Enjoyed for generations, it was developed in 1835 by two chemists from Worcester named Lea and Perrins. Worcestershire sauce is a kitchen staple used for marinades and as a condiment. It also serves as a key ingredient in bloody mary mix.

What Is Worcestershire Sauce?

Worcestershire sauce is a fermented condiment made from a base of 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 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 may or may not be gluten-free.

Varieties of Worcestershire Sauce

The best way to discover your favorite Worcestershire sauce is to sample an assortment of brands and varieties. You can also experiment by adding it to recipes whenever you cook with other savory sauces like soy, oyster, or fish 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.
The Spruce / Lindsay Kreighbaum.

Origins

Chemists John Lea and William Perrins developed this sauce in Worcester, England. They were experimenting with vinegar-based seasoning sauces and had abandoned a batch that didn't taste right. Sitting in the basement, the sauce fermented and developed complex flavors. The partners bottled more, and a taste for Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce spread throughout Europe, to America, and across the world. To produce the sauce, they allowed to sit for two years with periodic stirrings; the mixture was then 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 & 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 sauce.

What Is It Made Of?

Vinegar leads the ingredient list and is included both for the tangy flavor and to preserve the other components of Worcestershire sauce. Anchovies add umami (savoriness). The ingredient that 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. Ingredients for U.S. version of The Original Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce include:

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Anchovies
  • Garlic
  • Molasses
  • Onions
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Chili pepper extract
  • Cloves
  • Natural flavorings
  • Tamarind extract

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. 

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 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 Sauce

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 can be used as a condiment on sandwiches and shellfish, or seasoning for salads. It is used in soups and stews for seasoning and adding savoriness.

Recipes With Worcestershire Sauce

You will find Worcestershire sauce included in a wide variety of recipes for everything from vegetables to meat dishes, and sauces to soups.

Where to Buy Worcestershire Sauce

You can find Worcestershire sauce in the condiments section of the grocery store. It is commonly sold in 10-ounce bottles.

How to Make Your Own Worcestershire Sauce

It's relatively easy to make homemade Worcestershire sauce, but it does involve a long list of ingredients. Feel free to experiment and adjust to your taste. You can even try adding a personal secret ingredient to make the sauce your own.

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.

  1. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil and sauté the onion until soft.

  2. Add the tamarind paste, garlic, ginger, and jalapeños. Cook over medium-low heat for another 5 minutes.

  3. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about five hours or until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.

  4. Strain the Worcestershire sauce into glass bottles or jars and refrigerate.  You can also can it using a boiling-water canner.

Storage

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 may 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.

Benefits of Worcestershire Sauce

Worcestershire sauce adds an umami element to food and may allow you to use less of other seasonings. It has 5 calories per teaspoon, with 65 milligrams of sodium and small amounts of iron (2 percent of daily value) vitamin C (less than 1 percent of daily value), and calcium (less than 1 percent of daily value). The reduced sodium version from Lea & Perrins has 45 milligrams of sodium per teaspoon (2 percent of daily value). It is a fermented food, but today it is pasteurized before it is bottled, so there are no live cultures remaining.