You might recognize Worcestershire sauce as the ingredient to many dishes. It’s found in Caesar salads, chilis, stews, marinades, and even cocktails. You may have even seen the fascinating process in which Worcestershire sauce is made. Have you ever wondered, however, how the popular condiment came into existence?
Step into our time machine, strap yourselves in, and let us play you the soulful stylings of Brian McKnight as we take a trip back at one to discover the origins of Worcestershire sauce.
If the name Lea and Perrins sounds familiar to you, it’s because you may have seen it labeled on many bottles of Worcestershire sauces in the United States. Well these two gentlemen are credited as the inventors of Worcestershire sauce.
According to Josh Chetwynd’s book How The Hot Dog Found Its Bun, the origin is shrouded in mystery.
In 1837, the two chemists created a tangy new condiment that they believed would be a hit among ship stewards going on long voyages. John Weeley Lea and William Henry Perrins convinced them to pack their new “Worcestershire” sauce in barrels as it was believed to be much more resilient to spoiling than other perishable condiments at the time. It was even used by gold miners far from England in the desert wasteland known as Northern California.
People would throw it on oysters, beef dishes, and even eggs.
The origin behind the recipe, however, may as well be a lost grain in the sands of time.
You see, Lea and Perrins were very particular about with whom they shared their popular sauce recipe with. In fact, 150 years after Worcestershire sauce was introduced, only four people actually knew how it was made.
The creators, however, would tell a fantastical tale to their employees on how the sauce came to be. Whether or not this was rooted in truth, has been a subject of discussion for years.
Legend goes, a nobleman from the country of Worcestershire named Lord Sandys approached the two pharmacists with a peculiar request of recreating a similar flavor to the curry he experienced in his time in India serving as the governor of Bengal.
Lea and Perrins set to work, trying their best to recreate the combination of flavors that the nobleman had requested. Unfortunately, they came up short with a sauce that was pretty potent and pretty inedible. They left behind a barrel of their failure sauce where it was forgotten, until months later where a clerk had found it. Upon tasting it, the clerk discovered that the sauce had an excellent taste to it — having fermented for months unnoticed.
While the tale is pretty cool, there are some historical inaccuracies with this origin. Brian Keogh points out in his book The Secret Sauce – A History of Lea & Perrin that there were no historical records that Lord Sandys was ever in India, much less the governor of Bengal.
A similar, more plausible story, says that a Worcestershire author by the name of Elizabeth Grey visited the wife of Lord Sandy. Upon hearing the Lady Sandy’s craving of curry powder, Grey recounted a recipe she got from her uncle who had been a former chief justice in India. Grey even recommended to up-and-coming chemists to try and recreate that curry recipe.
Any guesses who those two might be?
The facts are that the exact origins died with Lea and Perrins. We know it was introduced in 1837 and we know the creators came up with some pretty fantastic accounts of how it came to be. Since the sauce tastes so damn good, we’ll give the enigma a pass.
Today, among all the hip new condiments, Worcestershire sauce is still wildly popular. You can find it in recipes for Sloppy Joe, Bloody Mary, steak, burgers, and even crab cakes.
“My dad throws it on everything,” said fellow Foodbeast Brayden Curtis.
When asked if the Curtis household had any more bottles we could use for stock photos, he replied:
Sorry man, I think we’re out.