Worcestershire sauce also known as Worcester sauce ) is a widely used fermented liquid condiment. It is currently made with vinegar, molasses, corn syrup, water, chilli peppers, soy sauce, pepper, tamarinds, anchovies, onions, shallots, cloves and garlic. It is a flavouring used in many dishes, both cooked and uncooked, and particularly with beef. Filipino cooking uses it frequently as a marinade, especially with pork. It is an important ingredient in Caesar salad and in a Bloody Mary. Lea & Perrins ships it in concentrate form to be re-bottled abroad.
Though a fermented anchovy sauce called garum was a staple of Greco-Roman cuisine and of the Mediterranean economy of the Roman Empire, "Worcester sauce" is one of the many legacies of British contact with India. While some sources trace comparable fermented anchovy sauces in Europe to the 17th century, this one became popular in the 1830s.
Though the widely-reported legend has it that "Lord Marcus Sandys, ex-Governor of Bengal" (a figure unknown to history outside this tale) encountered it while in India in the 1830s, missed it on his return, and commissioned the local apothecaries to recreate it, a privately published history of the Lea & Perrin's firm by a former employee, records that "No Lord Sandys was ever governor of Bengal, or as far as any records show, ever in India."
The Lord in question, whose identity was being discreetly veiled by Messrs. Lea and Perrins (who used to aver on the bottle's paper wrapping that the sauce came "from the recipe of a nobleman in the country") was Arthur Moyses William Sandys, 2nd Baron Sandys (1792-1860) of Ombersley Court, Worcestershire, Lieutenant-General and politician, a member of the house of Commons at the time of the legend, whose given name is being confused in the tale with that of his heir, Arthur Marcus Cecil Sandys, 3rd Baron Sandys (1798-1863), who didn't succeed to the title, however, until 1860. The barony in the Sandys family (IPA [sændz]) was revived in 1802 for the 2nd baron's mother, Mary Sandys Hill, so at the date of the legend, "Lord" Sandys was actually a Lady. No identifiable reference to her could possibly appear on a commercial bottled sauce without a serious breach of decorum. It is likely her heir who agreed to sell the recipe.
To abandon the unrevised legend and substitute a more accurate version that was published by Thomas Smith, Successful Advertising, (7th edition, 1885):
we quote the following history of the well-known Worcester Sauce, as given in the World. The label shows it is prepared "from the recipe of a nobleman in the country." The nobleman is Lord Sandys. Many years ago, Mrs. Grey, author of The Gambler's Wife and other novels, was on a visit at Ombersley Court, when Lady Sandys chanced to remark that she wished she could get some very good curry-powder, which elicited from Mrs. Grey that she had in her desk an excellent recipe, which her uncle, Sir Charles, Chief Justice of India, had brought thence, and given her. Lady Sandys said that there were some clever chemists in Worcester, who perhaps might be able to make up the powder. Messrs. Lea and Perrins looked at the recipe, doubted if they could procure all the ingredients, but said they would do their best, and in due time forwarded a packet of the powder. Subsequently the happy thought struck someone in the business that the powder might, in solution, make a good sauce. The profits now amount to thousands of pounds a year. (Mrs E. C. Grey's most popular novel, The Gambler's Wife published in 1845—and attributed to Poe in America—still had enough contemporary appeal to be reprinted in 1875.)
Upon completing the necessary steps, however, the resulting product was found to be so strong that it was considered inedible, and a barrel of the stuff was exiled to the basement of Lea & Perrins' premises. Looking to make space in the storage area a few years later, the chemists decided to try it once again (possibly to see if it was as bad as they remembered), only to discover that the sauce had fermented and mellowed and was now quite palatable. In 1838, the first bottles of "Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce" were released to the general public. It was a considerable success, and both the condiment and Lea & Perrins are going concerns to this day.
Sudan I contamination
In February 2005 the potentially cancer-causing dye Sudan I was discovered in Premier Foods' Worcester sauce by the Food Standards Agency, and subsequently traced back to an adulterated chili powder. This prompted the largest food product recall ever seen by the United Kingdom, over 400 different items, as the product is itself used in the flavouring of various other foods. The "Crosse and Blackwell's" brand of Worcester sauce, also affected, is the brand commonly used by manufacturers of prepared foods.
Lea and Perrins, the manufacturer of the brand best known to the public, had no contamination problem. However, they received over 5000 calls from worried customers, causing the local Member of Parliament for Worcester to table a motion in support of his city's most famous product.
Dishes using Worcestershire sauce
One of the simplest recipes to use Worcestershire sauce is a variation of cheese on toast with the sauce added to the plain version during the grilling process.
- Chef Greg Atkinson, abetted by Lea & Perrins, reports and debunks the myth without unveiling Lady Sandys.
- Thomas Smith, ''Successful Advertising,
February 2005 contamination
- Action taken to remove illegal dye found in wide range of foods on sale in UK (http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2005/feb/worcester) by the Food Standards Agency, 18 February 2005
- Food recalled in cancer dye scare (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4277677.stm) by BBC News, 18 February 2005
- Illegal dye: What is the health risk? (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4286847.stm) by BBC News, 22 February 2005