What Is Worcestershire Sauce–and How To Pronounce It
No Southern pantry is complete without a bottle.
Nearly every condiment shelf and basement bar in the South has one thing in common—a bottle of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce. The ubiquitous paper wrapped bottle covers one of the most versatile, flavor-packed, umami-filled sauces around—and one that is easily forgotten on a shelf. It’s a key ingredient in the best Bloody Marys, the perfect thing to splash on a steak, and the secret to delicious deviled eggs. But what is Worcestershire sauce?
First things first, according to the food pros at Bon Appetit, the sauce is pronounced “Wuss. Terr. Sherr” sauce and not like this. Now that's settled, Worcestershire Sauce actually has royal roots. Back in the early 1800s, Lord Sandys returned to his home in the county of Worcester in England with a souvenir from his travels in Bengal—a recipe for a sauce. Not having any kitchen know-how, but having a hankering for the taste, he asked two local chemists to whip up a batch. The chemists’ names? John Lea and William Perrins. The soon-to-be infamous Lea and Perrins had followed Lord Sandys’ recipe, but did not like the results. As with many home cooks unhappy with a batch of sauce (or jam or preserves), but unwilling to throw it out, they put the jars in their cellar to gather dust. Like with many home cooks, after a few years passed they found the forgotten jars in the cellar, and decided they couldn’t be all that bad after all. They popped them open and, sure enough, the aging process had made the sauce downright delectable.
According to the Lea & Perrins website, Mr. Lea and Mr. Perrins were so smitten with their sauce they decided to share it with the world, giving it the name of their county, Worcester. They began bottling in and selling it to chefs across Europe and developed a reputation for giving a little boost to food and making cheese on toast and cuts of meat taste just that much better.
In 1839, a New York entrepreneur sampled Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce and decided he simply had to bring it to the States. Soon, he was importing boatloads of it to the U.S. While it’s hard to believe, what with the rows of ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, hot sauce, and salsa lining the aisles of the Piggly Wiggly, at the time, Worcestershire Sauce was the only commercially bottled condiment in the U.S. and Americans simply couldn’t get enough of it. They still can’t today, which is how a bottle of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce has ended up in every pantry in the South.
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While the bottle of Lea & Perrins will last for a long time, if you have a lot of free time or can’t make it to the store, you can make Worcestershire Sauce from scratch. While the exact recipe for Lea & Perrins’ version is a closely guarded secret, you can get pretty close at home. Most recipes for DIY Worcestershire Sauce call for a lot of ingredients, but otherwise are fairly simple to make. (There’s a recipe on SimpleScratch.com if you’re interested, although it’s missing some key ingredients like anchovies and fermented onions and maybe asafetida.)
Just blend in fermented onions, garlic, apple cider vinegar, fish sauce, honey, molasses, tamarind paste, onion powder, chili powder, and clove and you’ll have a batch of your own Worcestershire Sauce that will last in the fridge for at least two months. Or, you know, just go buy a bottle.