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What Exactly Is Worcestershire Sauce (and What Do I Do with It)?

April 19, 2024

Maybe you have a bottle in your fridge that’s been there so long, you don’t even remember buying it. Or perhaps you’ve seen it on ingredient lists in recipes and wondered what the heck it is. Whether Worcestershire sauce is always on hand in your kitchen, or it’s one of the great mysteries of your cooking life, we thought it was high time to explain what this complex sweet-salty condiment is, and what you can do with it.

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Worcestershire sauce pronunciation

First things first: If you’re confused about how to pronounce it, no shame — it’s not intuitive. It’s pronounced wu-stuh-sher. If you prefer to hear it out loud before attempting to say it, you can play a recording of it here

What is Worcestershire made of?

If you’ve ever tasted it (and you definitely have if you’ve ever sipped a bloody mary), you know that Worcestershire sauce is hard to describe. It’s sweet, it’s a little spicy, it’s kind of funky. It has a depth and complexity to it. Worcestershire sauce provides umami — the fifth taste (along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter), which is savory, kind of meaty. Other foods that provide umami include hard cheeses like Parmesan, shiitake mushrooms, tomatoes, and meat.

Though there are different versions of Worcestershire sauce, the classic is a fermented combination of vinegar, molasses, onions, garlic, anchovies, tamarind, and salt. Some also contain chili pepper. There are also vegan options made without the anchovy. Many are gluten free, including Lea & Perrins, the most common brand — but check the label to be certain if that’s a concern.

How to use Worcestershire sauce

It’s worth keeping a bottle in your fridge (if you don’t have one already), because it can do so many things. A little goes a long way.

  • Marinades. Add it to marinades for steak, chicken, pork, or tofu. Use it in place of some of the fish sauce or soy sauce in a recipe for a twist. Worcestershire sauce gets a richness and saltiness from the anchovy, but it’s balanced with the brightness of the vinegar and the sweet-sour of the tamarind.
  • Sauces and dressings. An umami element is often just the thing to turn to when you’re having trouble balancing a sauce. Add a shake if you’re making a cocktail sauce for shrimp or other seafood, or a barbecue or even a teriyaki sauce. Worcestershire sauce can liven up a homemade Caesar or other salad dressing, too.
  • Other dishes. Add a dash to chili or any stew at the end to give it brightness and depth. Shake a little into your ground beef or turkey for really delicious burgers. Toss a bit into a bowlful of vegetables (along with olive oil and other seasonings) before roasting or sauteing. Blend some into dips or deviled eggs.
  • Drinks. It’s key to a classic bloody mary (or virgin mary), and it shows up in a michelada, too. Add a dash to tomato-based or other savory cocktails or mocktails, or to add a savory edge to acidic ones, especially drinks with a strong citrus component.

Read next: 8 Best Healthy Condiments to Make Your Meals Way More Exciting

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