Worcestershire: A Sauce from India?

A tangy steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce is popular and so is relished across the world. But did you know that despite the very British name, this sauce traces its origins to India?

The original recipe of Worcestershire sauce is a closely guarded secret but the sauce basically consists of anchovies (a small, common salt-water fish) layered in salt water, tamarinds in molasses, garlic in vinegar, chilies, cloves, onions, and sugar among other ingredients.

For anyone exposed to Indian cooking, many of these ingredients will sound all too familiar. India is the largest producer of tamarind in the world today, and the tangy legume is used extensively in all kinds of Indian cuisines from curries to chutneys. Garlic (or other vegetables) soaked in vinegar have also become commonplace since the Portuguese introduced vinegar to India in the 15th Century. Similarly chilies, cloves, onions, and sugar are all used liberally in cuisines across India.

 India is the largest producer of tamarind in the world
India is the largest producer of tamarind in the world|Pixabay

Worcestershire Sauce as we know it, first went on sale in 1837. It was produced in Worcester by two chemists, John Wheeley Lea and William Perrins. But the story behind how they chanced upon this sauce is interesting.

It is believed that a local aristocrat, Lord Marcus Sandys, who had returned to Worcester after living in India as an officer of the British East Company, commissioned the making of the sauce. While in India, Sandys tasted a local chutney served with fish that he really liked. When he got back to England, he asked the 2 chemists Lea and Perrins, to duplicate it.

While the chemists did as they were asked, unlike Lord Sandys, they were far from delighted with the result. It is said that they made a little extra for themselves and proclaimed it to be "unpalatable, red-hot fire-water". They put their share into their cellars and that was that.

Two years later, during a stocktaking and clearing exercise, they came across it again and decided to taste it before discarding it. To their surprise it had mellowed with age and turned into a delicious sauce!

They bottled it, sold it and went down in history as the creators of one of the most popular and versatile sauces in the world!

Old advertisement for Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
Old advertisement for Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce|Wikimedia Commons

But this appetizing legend has not been historically corroborated. A former Lea & Perrins employee, Brian Keogh, found a loophole in the story, in the course of his research for ''The Secret Sauce,'' a history of the firm that was published privately in 1997 to mark the 100th anniversary of the original plant at Midland Road. ''No Lord Sandys,'' he wrote, ''was ever a governor of Bengal or, as far as available records show, ever in India.''

Packaging of  Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
Packaging of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce|Wikimedia Commons

But this has only added to the mystery around the famous concoction. From a secret formula that has never been fully divulged to exotic origins shrouded in suspense, Worcestershire sauce with its umami taste has captured the imagination of gourmands and food lovers across the world!

The Bloody Mary has become a classic cocktail over the years
The Bloody Mary has become a classic cocktail over the years|Harry’s New York Bar, Paris (http://harrysbar.fr/en/)

Did You Know

Worcestershire sauce is one of the central ingredients in the popular cocktail Bloody Mary, which was invented in the 1920s at Harry's New York Bar in Paris by Fernand Petiot, the head bartender.

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