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A Brief History of Worcestershire Sauce
English colonists first tasted Indonesian kecap manis in the eighteenth century. Back home, the British developed their own takes on the sauce. Without soybeans, they used mushrooms, shallots, and anchovies to develop a variety of thick, brown condiments, including mushroom ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.
Worcestershire sauce itself was developed by chemists John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins, who ran a shop in the city of Worcester in the West Midlands region of England. According to legend, former soldier Sir Marcus Sandys brought the recipe back from India, and Lea and Perrins forgot about the sauce in their cellar, where it fermented. This origin story is unlikely, considering the popularity of fermenting sauces during the time.
A version of Worcestershire sauce has become a popular condiment in Japan, China, and Thailand, where many recipes omit the anchovies in favor of soy sauce or fermented fruits.
What Is Worcestershire Sauce Made Of?
Commercial Worcestershire sauce is typically made with:
- Vinegar: The original Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce recipe was made with barley malt vinegar. Today, most Worcestershire sauce is made with white vinegar.
- Molasses: This contributes to the sauce’s dark brown color and rich sweetness.
- Sugar: Some commercial versions use white sugar, while others use high-fructose corn syrup to sweeten the sauce.
- Alliums: Worcestershire sauce is traditionally made with shallots and garlic, and many contemporary recipes call for onion and garlic powder.
- Spices: Cloves, celery seed, and natural flavorings give Worcestershire sauce its characteristic spiciness—in some cases with the addition of chili pepper extract.
- Tamarind: Worcestershire sauce may include tamarind extract to add sour flavor.
What Does Worcestershire Sauce Taste Like?
Worcestershire Sauce has a powerful umami flavor, which comes from the anchovies or soy sauce. It's sour from tamarind and vinegar, sweet from molasses and sugar, and spicy. Although it contains similar flavors (and shares history with) ketchup and brown sauce (steak sauce), Worcestershire sauce is more concentrated than other condiments, and designed to be used a few drops at a time.