What Is Worcestershire Sauce?

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You'd never guess all the ingredients in Worcestershire sauce!

Worcestershire sauce has been around since 1837, when it was invented in England. It adds body to pasta sauce, spice to red beans and rice and depth of flavor to French onion soup. And you can’t make a good Bloody Mary without it. But what’s really in that paper-wrapped bottle at the back of your pantry?

What Is Worcestershire Sauce?

Worcestershire is a fermented condiment that adds tang and umami to savory dishes. This thin, brown sauce with mustard- and cherry-colored undertones originated in England as an experiment gone wrong.

The possible origin story has it that two chemists created the concoction at the request of visiting royalty—but it was horrible. Rather than toss it out, the duo left an entire barrel of the stuff in a basement, only to discover years later that it had transformed into something deliciously marketable.

See what other foods were invented by accident.

What’s in Worcestershire Sauce?

This condiment’s components depend on who makes it. The Lea & Perrins version ferments vats of whole red onions (9 months) and garlic cloves (18 months). The U.K. recipe uses barley malt and spirit vinegars while Americans get a formulation made with distilled white vinegar. Some brands skimp on the soak, relying instead on onion and garlic powders.

What’s the secret ingredient? Salt-laden, decomposed anchovies or sardines. Other ingredients may include molasses, salt, cloves, tamarind and pepper.

Is Worcestershire Sauce Vegan?

No, the anchovies or sardines in traditional Worcestershire sauce keep it from being vegan. But several newer formulations are fish-free:

  • The Wizard’s: This sauce’s richness and complexity come from shiitake mushroom powder and a form of soy sauce called tamari.
  • Annie’s Organic Worcestershire Sauce: This version relies on soy sauce to replace the salty umami of fermented fish.
  • Wan Ja Shan: Made by a company in upstate New York whose specialty is soy sauce, this organic and gluten-free Worcestershire sauce also uses tamari.

These sauces contain other differences from the Lea & Perrins recipe. Each has its own spice blend, and none uses whole onions or garlic, relying instead on the powdered forms. Wizard’s and Annie’s both use thickeners, so they’re better for cooking than for cocktails.

How Do You Pronounce Worcestershire Sauce?

Don’t try to sound it out; phonics are not your friend here. WOO-stuh-shur is the proper pronunciation.

The sauce gets its name from its birthplace: Worcestershire, a county in England. “Shire” means county, and its pronunciation changes from “shy-er” to “shur” when it’s part of a longer word.

You can still cook with Worcestershire sauce even if you can’t say it. Use it to make buttery roasted pumpkin seeds.

The Best Brands of Worcestershire Sauce

  • Lea & Perrins: Created in 1837, Lea & Perrins is the original Worcestershire sauce. It’s fermented for 18 months to get its unique flavor.
  • Bourbon Barrel: This small-batch, sorghum-sweetened sauce soaks in aged bourbon barrels. It’s vegetarian and comes from Louisville (another place people can’t pronounce correctly).
  • Bull-Dog: This Japanese take on Worcestershire sauce dates back to 1902. It uses sardines, prunes, tomatoes and carrots. It’s also an essential ingredient for tonkatsu, a recipe for panko-encrusted pork cutlets.

How Do You Store Worcestershire Sauce?

You can keep Worcestershire sauce, unopened, for up to three years in the pantry. Once you’ve used it, it’ll last another three years in the fridge. Find out how long more condiments last.

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Amy Fontinelle
Amy Fontinelle has been an online content creator since 2006. Her work has been published by Forbes Advisor, The Motley Fool, Business Insider, Investopedia, International Business Times, MassMutual, Credible, and more. Amy cares about making challenging personal finance topics easy to understand so people feel empowered to manage their finances and don't get taken advantage of. She wants everyone to experience the peace of mind and freedom that come from financial security. Amy spends much of her free time in the kitchen making her own pizza dough and ricotta cheese.