What Exactly Is Worcestershire Sauce Anyway?

Worcestershire is one of the most flavorful and potent condiments on earth, and it also happens to be one of the most complex. It has a really interesting history and an infinite amount of uses, but one question remains: What exactly is the stuff?

First, a little history: Worcestershire sauce was invented by two chemists from Worcester (pronounced wuss-ter), England named John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins, whose last names you might be familiar with. Nobody is quite sure how they got their hands on the recipe, but upon first concocting it, they found it unpalatable, so they stashed the barrels in a corner of their pharmacy's basement and completely forgot about them. But when they rediscovered them a couple years later while attempting to clear out some space, the mixture had fermented and completely transformed in flavor. Thus, Lea & Perrins' Worcestershire sauce was first sold the public in 1838.

But what exactly is in the stuff? According to the bottle, Worcestershire sauce contains distilled white vinegar, molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies, onions, water, garlic, cloves, tamarind extract, natural flavorings, and chile pepper extract. This actually differs slightly from the traditional British recipe, which contains malt vinegar, a third the amount of sugar, and a third the amount of salt.