Worcestershire Sauce – this one is a bit fishy if you ask me


Bet you were not thinking of Worcestershire as a fish sauce.   You may be surprised to discover that Worcestershire owes its unique taste to anchovies and tamarind.

As I alluded to in my previous post, I’ve been curious about fish sauces for some time, and in an effort to not end up with a deluge of a post, I’ve broken the topic into, I hope, more manageable size chunks – first came colatura a fish sauce from Italy, now the fish sauce from England.  In future posts I’ll hit on the fish sauces of China, Thailand and the Philippines.  I’ve added the tag “fish sauce” for easy reference.

photo from old-picture.com

photo from old-picture.com


Worcestershire sauce was invented in the early 1800s in Worcester, England (where else?) at the request of Lord Sandys.  He had acquired a recipe for the sauce during his travels through Bengal (now Bangladesh or parts of Pakistan and India) and commissioned two chemists, John Lea and Williams Perrins, to make the first batch.  Let’s just say, the first results were not good.  In fact, they were so bad, that the pair of chemists that left jars full of the stuff in their cellar where they collected dust for years.  Sometime later, they found said jars, and like anyone with a failed chemistry experiment left sitting in the cellar they sampled it  [what were they thinking?].  To their amazement, they found the sauce to be delicious.  Apparently, the missing part of that recipe, was the requisite aging process – which is about 18 months.  Subsequent batches were no longer made in jars, but wooden casks for a “richer, smoother” flavor.

[These “happy “discoveries never fail to amuse me.  What is it that drives people to look at jars hidden for years in their cellars, maggoty cheese, stinging nettles, or poisionous fish and think – “I really must taste that”?  I confess, if I were in their shoes, this world would be a much less colorful culinary place.  So its probably best I just write about the stuff.]

As you might have suspected, this is the story of Lea & Perrins brand of Worcestershire sauce.  Soon after Lea’s and Perrins’ fortuitous discovery, they began bottling their special blend of vinegars and seasonings. With little fanfare this sauce quickly became indispensable in the  kitchens of Europe.  In 1839, a New York entrepreneur, ordered a small batch of the sauce, and it quickly replicated its success in the United States as the only commercially bottled condiment.

I could not find any further information on Lord Sandys, apparently he dropped out of the picture.  Seems a bit unfair as he was the person that brought back the recipe and started this endeavor.


Lea and Perrin's Worcestershire Sauce

Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce

The recipe remains a closely guarded secret – a real “secret sauce”, and only a privileged few know the exact ingredients. The company designed the label to shield the appearance of the sauce from other imitators, apparently they did not consider that the competition could purchase the bottles and pour the sauce in a bowl.  That label design remains the same today.  Lea & Perrins remains true to the original recipe, aging the sauce in wooden casks for 18 months for a richer, smoother flavor.

The following list of ingredients came from wikipedia.  Note the US and English ingredients are different.  The last time, I purchased some Worcestershire sauce, I was dismayed at the number of brands, including Lea & Perrins, that contained high fructose corn syrup.  The French’s brand did not have high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), only corn syrup listed in the ingredients, so while the bottle is not as attractive, nor does it have the mystic, it also does not have HFCS.

The H. J. Heinz Company, which now manufactures “The Original Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce” lists the following ingredients on the bottle produced in the United States: vinegar, molasses, high fructose corn syrup, anchovies, water, onions, salt, garlic, tamarind concentrate, cloves, natural flavorings and chili pepper extract.

The ingredients of a bottle of Worcestershire sauce from England sold under the name “The Original & Genuine Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce” by Lea & Perrins Ltd., lists: malt vinegar (from barley), spirit vinegar, molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies, tamarind extract, onions, garlic, spice and flavoring.


  • Soups, stews, and sauces
  • Bloody Mary drinks (In the barman at “Harry’s New York Bar in Paris) mixed vodka with tomato juice and a splash of Worcestershire sauce)
  • Party Mix aka Chex Mix (this might be a US thing, but its made with Chex cereal, nuts and pretzels, coated with melted butter, spices, Worcestershire sauce, and baked)  I loved it growing up; craved it might be closer to the mark.  This was a holiday treat in my family .  Some years back, the cereal maker, General Mills, got smart and now sell the packaged stuff.  Not nearly as good, or as fun, because this snack was something my mom always made at the holidays, and now it can be purchased year round. Besides, homemade is just better.
  • Caesar salad
  • Welsh Rarebit (Rabbit)  Helen at WorldFoodieGuilde.com, just posted a yummy version of this dish based on a book by Mark Hix on British Regional Food.
  • the popular Mexican beer cocktail, the Michelada
  • added to pizza in Mexico
  • hamburgers

Welsh Rarebit (bbcgoodfood.com)

Welsh Rarebit (bbcgoodfood.com)

Welsh Rarebit (serves 4)  Adapted from recipe by Alton Brown


  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T flour
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 c porter beer
  • 3/4 c heavy cream
  • 6 oz (a~ 1 1½ c) shredded Cheddar cheese
  • dash of hot sauce
  • 4 slices toasted rye bread


In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking constantly for 2 to 3 minutes, do not brown the flour. Whisk in mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper until smooth. Add beer and whisk to combine. Pour in cream and whisk until well combined and smooth. Gradually add cheese, stirring constantly, until cheese melts and sauce is smooth; ~ 4 minutes. Add hot sauce. Pour over toast and serve immediately.

Fun bits of trivia

Worcestershire sauce =  salsa inglesa (English sauce) in Spanish

When the Lea & Perrins company started exporting Worcestershire sauce around the world – boat was the only option. The lengthy and often rough sea voyages caused some bottles to break. The practice of wrapping each bottle in a paper wrap was devised to protect the bottles and prevent breakage.  That wrapper, while no longer necessary, still exists today.

Worcestershire Sauce in Asia

For Asian countries that had significant exposure to Western cuisine, Worcestershire sauce has been assimilated into their cooking.

In Cantonese cuisine, Worcestershire sauce was introduced in the 19th century via Hong Kong and is today used in dim sum items such as steamed beef meatballs and spring rolls. The Cantonese name for this sauce is “gip-jap”. It is also used in a variety of Hong Kong-style Chinese and “Western” dishes.

In Shanghainese cuisine, the use of Worcestershire sauce insidiously spread from European-style restaurants in the 19th and 20th century, Eastern European-inspired dishes such as Shanghai-style borscht, and as a dipping sauce in Western fusion foods such as Shanghai-style breaded pork cutlets. It is also commonly used for Chinese foods such as the shengjian mantou, which are small, pan-fried pork buns. In Shanghai, Worcestershire sauce is called “la jiangyou” (literally “spicy soy sauce”).  Imported Worcestershire sauce became scarce in Shanghai after 1949, as local brands took control. These Chinese versions are now exported around the world for use in Shanghai-style dishes.  Lea & Perrins recently established a plant in Guangdong, China, to counter the local dominance, but it still has not recaptured its lost customer base against the local varieties.

Japanese Worcestershire sauce

Japanese Worchesershire

Japanese Worchestershire

Often known as sōsu “sauce”, or Usutā sōsu “Worcester sauce”, Japanese Worcestershire sauce is made from the fruit and vegetables such as apples and tomatoes, matured with sugar, salt, spices, starch and caramel, and comes in a variety of flavors and consistencies. Despite its name, it is not all that close to the Lea & Perrins version – American style barbeque sauce might be a better substitute.  Sōsu comes in a variety of thickness, with the thicker sauces taking on attributes of both the original Worcestershire sauce and HP sauce, another popular condiment.

Depending on the foods they are created to compliment, many variations exist in terms of flavor and consistency, such as okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) sauce and tonkatsu(breaded pork cutlets) sauce.

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22 comments for “Worcestershire Sauce – this one is a bit fishy if you ask me

  1. tokyoterrace
    May 27, 2009 at 6:16 PM

    Another great, informative post! One of my favorite sauces here in Japan is the one used for tonkatsu (which we are having for dinner tonight). Awesome information. Great work!

  2. May 27, 2009 at 8:28 PM

    I was enver able to pronounce the name correctly. LOL. Interesting to know its origination.

    I had welsh rarebit once in this bar/pub here in LA. OMG… I love it so much. Not sure if it was the authentic kind as I’ve never been to England, but it was good enough for me to want to try it again. I’m definitely going to try the recipe you posted.

  3. May 27, 2009 at 8:59 PM

    I use Worcestershire sauce quite often and knew some info on it but not all the details so it was interesting to learn more about the history and also the ingredients. Thanks!

  4. May 27, 2009 at 9:47 PM

    My first thought when you said, “What drives people to do…” is that all these discoveries must have been made by men. After all, we all know that when we’re at a restaurant and the waiter brings the plates out and says, “Careful, the plate is hot….” that the men at the table are going to touch them to see just how hot they are. You know I’m right. Hah. Guys can’t help themselves.

  5. May 27, 2009 at 10:47 PM

    Thank you fot that lovely information!
    I don’t really like the sauce itself, but I like the city of Worchester! It is a lovely typical English city! I have been there a couple of times & I like the country side surrounding it too!
    My husband loves the stuff!

  6. May 28, 2009 at 7:39 AM

    So interesting about the label. I love WS in bloody mary’s and in turkey burgers, but it’s just necessary in Chex Mix!

  7. oysterculture
    May 28, 2009 at 8:00 AM

    Lisa – agree, many favorites just would not be the same
    Sophie and 5 Start – you’re welcome
    Carolyn – my thoughts exactly – a few years back my husband and I were standing by the Lincoln Memorial in DC watching the Marine Corp marathon go by, when incredibly two bald eagles appeared overhead in an aerial fight. One had a fish in his talons that the other was very interested in acquiring. He caused the first eagle to drop it, and it hit the ground with resounding thud, before bouncing about 10 feet in the air. There was a moment when the crowd just stood there, and then the guys made these kind of jerking motions before they took off to check out the fish – my hubby was the first to dash over. They poked it with a stick and then came back to tell us it was dead. The women in the group, looked at each other as if to say “we could have told you that” I think women and men can process information differently in some circumstances.

    Bread + Butter – I can see you are now on a tasting mission to confirm the authenticity of the welsh rarebit you had – definitely a good thing. I’m sure I’ll find some fabulous quick and easy version you develop to share on your post.

    TokyoTerrace – Now you’re making me hungry. I like that sauce, and get it here, not that I make tonkatsu, I’m lucky to be able to easily get some a few blocks away, but like you, I really like the taste of the sauce.

  8. May 28, 2009 at 8:30 AM

    Well I had no idea about the origins of Worcester sauce! Very interesting. Every home should have a bottle.

  9. May 28, 2009 at 8:48 AM

    It’s so great to learn the history of an ingredient like worcester sauce. I had no idea! The Japanese worcester looks really interesting…….as is the recipe above. Thanks for the information and sharing all this wonderful knowledge!

  10. andrealein
    May 29, 2009 at 12:06 AM

    What an interesting post! I had no idea Worcestershire sauce was made from anchovies and tamarind, but I’ll be sharing this bit of info with everyone I know! I also recently acquired some tamarind and your post inspires me to find creative ways to use it.

  11. May 29, 2009 at 5:38 AM

    What a great history behind worcestershire sauce, I love to cook with this delicious sauce.

    Fantastic Post!

  12. May 30, 2009 at 2:47 PM

    Just saw a Welsh rarebit (or rabbit) recipe at World Foodie Guide, too. Must be a sign to try it out!

  13. May 31, 2009 at 12:39 AM

    Great summary of the history of Worcestershire sauce! I have it in the cupboard but don’t use it that much. It’s strange it’s used in Chinese food recipes, but then it does have a unique flavour. PS Welsh rabbit (rarebit) is excellent!

  14. June 1, 2009 at 1:15 AM

    I’ve been meaning to make a welsh rarebit since I moved here and haven’t because I have never bought worcestershire sauce. How do you say it anyway…I always ended it with a “shere” sound, but “shire” is “shy-er”, so it must be “wor” “chester” “shy-re”?
    Whatever, anyway this family I used to cook for loved it and I always added a few tablespoons to this beef stew with horseradish cream they loved. It does sort of provide that I slaved over the stove all day flavor…

    I’ve got to try the Japanese version…

    ps Good luck with the web-tech-blog stuff!

  15. oysterculture
    June 1, 2009 at 6:46 PM

    Gastroanthropologist, This word cracks me up. To me, its pronounced with the fewest syllables possible (the fewest I detected was two – Wor-ster), unlike their luxury car, to which they seem to add a few: jag-u-ar. At least that’s my American ear. I’m with you on the pronunciation, I say it like you do.

    The Japanese version is yummy. I’ve seen it at a few stores on Clement, but I think its a good excuse to head to Japantown. Not that I need an excuse.

  16. June 1, 2009 at 9:08 PM

    I have loved this sauce since it was introduced into my house, and we always added it to our Texas BBQ recipes… I tried to make it last year for my cafe, to have a gluten free, and it was not bad, and also you have just inspired my next new dish!

    I am addicted to your blog you know! So informative, and I know I keep saying that, but every time I come over here I walk away so happy!

  17. June 2, 2009 at 7:26 PM

    Worcestershire will always be a classic. Nothing tastes like it. Funny, though, how the manufacturer uses different recipes in different parts of the world. I know for a fact that Heinz ketchup in Asia does not taste like what is sold in the US. Nutella in Italy and France isn’t nearly as sweet as we find here.

  18. June 8, 2009 at 5:45 AM

    See, now, having spent many years as a vegetarian, I know that worcestershire sauce contains anchovies (though it did surprise me when I discovered that fact for the first time). There’s a bottle of the original Lea & Perrins in my kitchen now, though, and (I’m happy to report) no HFCS on the ingredients list. Phew!

  19. June 10, 2009 at 2:59 PM

    Love worcestershire with spring rolls at dim sum! I have at least 4 bottles of worcestershire sauce in the fridge, including a vegan variety. I keep forgetting whether I have any and then the bottles keep disappearing in the fridge (too many condiments) so I keep buying more. And I always wondered about the brown paper wrap!

    I’ll have to pick up some of that sosu sauce for next time I make tonkatsu – sounds yummy.

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  21. Skippy
    July 13, 2011 at 1:57 PM

    It’s pronounced WOOS-tuh (city and sauce – the last syllable is customarily dropped). That’s the sound in ‘cook’ or ‘book’ followed by a schwa. The county is WOOS-tuh-shuh.

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