TASTE

What Exactly IS Worcestershire Sauce, Anyway?

It is NOT vegan friendly.

12/08/2016 3:31 PM IST | Updated 15/08/2016 8:15 PM IST

We know it makes a mean Bloody Mary, we kind of know how to pronounce it, but WTF is Worcestershire sauce actually made of, anyway? If you’ve just been smothering your steaks with this sauce and have had no idea what’s in it, you might be in for a rude awakening.

Brace yourself, guys. The main ingredient that gives most Worcestershire sauce its umami flavor is anchovies. Actually, fermented anchovies. Worcestershire gets its intense taste from anchovies that have been left to ferment in vinegar for a duration of 18 months. 

How’s that steak tasting now?

The other ingredients that make up this savory sauce usually include onions, molasses, high fructose corn syrup (depending on the country of production), salt, garlic, tamarind, cloves, chili pepper extract, water and natural flavorings.

That last ingredient is a well guarded secret of Lea & Perrins, the company that developed this sauce back in the 1830s. Some speculation as to what’s in the sauce suggests asafoetida ― a flavor-enhancing spice that is a regular component of Indian cuisine that smells fetid when raw ― as well as soy sauce, lemons and pickles. But those ingredients have not been confirmed.

Jay Paull via Getty Images
An ad for Lea & Perrins' Worcestershire Sauce from 1901.

While many brands of Worcestershire sauce are available on the market, Lea and Perrins ― a couple of chemists in Worcester ― were the first to develop it. They bottled it as Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce almost 200 years ago. The recipe developed accidentally. Their first attempt at the stuff was so bad they stored it in the cellar as a failed attempt. Before getting ready to toss it months later, they gave it another taste to discover it had mellowed into a rich umami sauce.

So if you’ve always loved Worcestershire sauce but have snubbed your nose at the thought of fish sauce, you might want to reconsider your stance, because the two are not so different in the end.

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