You probably know Worcestershire sauce as that savory sauce you were never quite sure how to pronounce correctly (it's "WOO-ster-sher" by the way), but what exactly is it? Worcestershire is made from a malt vinegar base and flavored with anchovies, molasses, onion, and garlic. The sauce's taste is distinctly umami, tangy, sweet, and salty, which makes it a a great flavor enhancement for many dishes. It's important to note that most Worcestershire sauces are neither vegetarian nor are they kosher. There are also some brands that may have gluten in their sauce, so it is important to double check the label when grocery shopping
Worcestershire sauce often draws comparison to soy sauce, however the two sauces are quite different. Soy sauce is made with soybeans, wheat, enzymes, and salt. Additionally, soy sauce is fermented for six months, has a very salty flavor, and is mostly used in Asian cuisine. Worcestershire sauce, on the other hand, has a much more complex flavor, is fermented for two years, and is used in a wide range of cuisines.
In Worcester County in the early 1800s, an English nobleman called Lord Sandys hired two chemists named John Lea and William Perrins to try to duplicate a sauce he'd acquired overseas in Bengal.
The chemists got to work but couldn't figure out a recipe they liked. Frustrated, they left their sauce attempts in a cellar in jars, and rediscovered the mixture a few years later, deciding to give the recipe another taste. It turns out, after years of fermentation, the sauce they'd concocted was actually pretty good!
Lea and Perrins decided to bottle and sell their accidental creation, and in just a few years the sauce's popularity had spread throughout Europe without any advertising at all.
Worcestershire sauce spread to the U.S. in 1839, when an entrepreneur from New York ordered a small shipment from Europe and started selling to Americans. In a few years, the demand had skyrocketed until Lea & Perrins was the only commercially bottled condiment in the United States. Today, Lea & Perrins sells to 75 countries around the world, with different countries incorporating the sauce into their food cultures in unique, varied forms.
If, for some reason, you don't have Worcestershire sauce in your pantry at home, there are a few common ingredients you can use as a substitute for when you need a quick alternative. Since the sauce has a signature umami-flavor, you'll want to substitute it for something sweet and savory. These items should hold you over until the next time you pick up a bottle of Worcestershire sauce from the grocery store:
This recipe will yield you three-quarters of a cup of this Worcestershire sauce. You'll need a blender for this, as the ingredients must be blended together to give the smooth appearance.
With the classic version of the sauce, including anchovies and the substitute using fish sauce, a vegan Worcestershire sauce might sound impossible. Fear not, as we have a vegan substitute for the classic sauce, although it will be missing that slightly fishy essence. This recipe yields one cup of sauce.
Typically Worcestershire sauce is used to add flavor to meat and marinades, but it's also a key ingredient in Bloody Marys and Caesar salad dressing. Worcestershire sauce is great for adding to soups and stews, but is mostly used to enhance the flavor of steak, prime rib, meatloaf, pulled pork, shepherd's pie, burgers, sandwich melts, and more. This versatile sauce can also be used as an alternative to fish sauce to change up familiar recipes and dishes.
In the U.S. and Canada, Worcestershire sauce is known to complement beef burgers particularly well. Over in Spain, Worcestershire sauce is an accessory to salads, while in Hong Kong it gets used frequently as a dipping sauce, stir-fry sauce, and marinade for beef. In El Salvador, the sauce is frequently paired with refried beans.
Here are some of our favorite recipes that use Worcestershire sauce:
Most grocery stores sell Worcestershire sauce. Typically you can find 10-ounce bottles of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce in the condiments aisle. However, you can also order the sauce in bulk online as well as other variations of the sauce, including a chicken marinade and a marinade-in-a-bag.