Citizens, the extremely popular condiment known as Worcestershire sauce is a fermented liquid of complex mixture, of British origin from the county of Worcester, and popularized by Lea & Perrins.
The essential ingredients are barley malt vinegar, spirit vinegar, molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies, tamarind extract, onions, and garlic; particular brands add other spices as well to taste.
Despite being created in the 19th century in Great Britain, the ancestor sauces of Worcestershire actually go back millennia to Ancient Rome!
A fermented fish sauce called garum was a staple of Greco-Roman cuisine and of the Mediterranean economy of the Roman Empire, as the first-century encyclopaedist Pliny the Elder writes in his “Historia Naturalis” and the fourth/fifth-century Roman culinary text Apicius includes garum in its recipes.
The use of similar fermented anchovy sauces in Europe can be traced back to the 17th century. The Lea & Perrins brand was commercialised in 1837 and has continued to be the leading global brand of Worcestershire sauce.
According to historian and Herald for Wales, Major Francis Jones, the introduction of the recipe can be attributed to Captain Henry Lewis Edwardes (1788–1866).
Edwardes, originally of Rhyd-y-gors, Carmarthenshire, was a veteran of the Napoleonic wars and held the position of Deputy-Lieutenant of Carmarthenshire.
He is believed to have brought the recipe home after travels in India. The article does not say how the recipe found its way to Messrs Lea and Perrins.
When the recipe was first mixed at the pharmacy of John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins, the resulting product was so strong that it was considered inedible and the barrel was abandoned in the basement.
Looking to make space in the storage area a few years later, the chemists decided to try it again, and discovered that the sauce had fermented and mellowed and was now palatable. In 1838 the first bottles of “Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce” were released to the general public.
On 16 October 1897, Lea & Perrins relocated manufacturing of the sauce from their pharmacy to a factory in Aston on Midlands Road where it is still manufactured. The factory produces ready-mixed bottles for domestic distribution and a concentrate for bottling abroad.
Today, Worcestershire sauce is one of the most famous condiments in the world, but the recipe remains a closely-guarded secret.
My 1931 copy of “The Joy Of Cooking” gives a recipe for it, but it involves creating a homemade walnut catsup (no tomatoes, it’s actually closer to soy sauce in color and Worcestershire sauce in taste) that requires, amongst many other ingredients, “100 immature green walnuts so soft you can pierce them with a pin.”
Not really feasible for the majority of us without access to a walnut tree or orchard. So, I’ve substituted store-bought mushroom ketchup which has a similar profile and adds extra umami overtones. I further amp up the umami with some dried shitake mushrooms.
I also add my secret ingredients – first, Georgian green Tkemali sauce, which adds a complex spicy and herbal sour flavor and sweetened Chinese black vinegar, which adds even more of the correct flavor profile of proper Worcestershire sauce.
Citizens, my personally spiced sauce is not overly difficult to make and is even superior to the excellent Lea and Perrins standard, in my humble opinion! I hope you will give it a try – your tastebuds will thank you!
Battle on – The Generalissimo