Worcestershire sauce is one of those strange condiments that you just never know exactly how to describe. Is it sweet? Perhaps it's sour?
Or maybe it’s salty and savory? We think it’s a mixture of all of these. What we know for sure is that it is a very distinctive taste and one that seems as though it would be pretty difficult to replicate.
But is it?
In this article, we are going to be exploring Worcestershire sauce and telling you all about some of the Worcestershire sauce substitutes that exist, many of which you possibly didn’t even know existed!
So if you are currently following a recipe that includes Worcestershire sauce but the sauce is nowhere to be found, fear not, for we might just have the answers you are looking for.
What is Worcestershire sauce?
A question that has been asked by many people, many times, and for many years.
As we said in the introduction, Worcestershire sauce is a bit of a conundrum. It is hard to pin down its exact flavors just by tasting it.
To better understand any substitutes that may be able to be used instead of it, we must first get to grips with what it is, how it’s made, what it’s used for, and where it was invented. A history of Worcestershire sauce, if you will.
Worcestershire sauce is a fermented condiment, made in the English county of Worcestershire, specifically in the town of Worcester, hence the name.
It was originally created by two men called John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins. In the United Kingdom, there is a brand of sauce called Lea and Perrins and this is the original sauce ever made.
These two men were actually pharmacists and started selling their sauce as a way to compete with another pharmacist in the town who had started selling imported sauces from India.
It is no surprise then that they tried to sell their sauce as a medicine as much as a condiment, claiming it as a tonic that could invigorate you.
The exact origins are murky, but it is thought that the very first batch they ever brewed together was so strong that it was inedible, resulting in them abandoning it.
They attempted to trademark the name Worcestershire sauce, but this was overruled by the English High Court of Justice. This was the reason the sauce began to be called by their surnames.
Due to the fact that Worcestershire sauce cannot be trademarked and owned by a particular person, many other brands and companies have since brought out their own version under that name.
The sauce comprises many different flavors and ingredients.
Of course, exact ingredients and quantities vary depending on the brand you buy and who is making it. Generally, it features fish sauce or anchovies, tamarind paste, sugar, salt, vinegar, molasses, onions, garlic, and other spices.
Fish sauce is, of course, made from anchovies by fermenting them in salt for a long period of time while they start to decompose.
As unappetizing as this sounds it is safe to eat and makes for a delicious condiment and addition to Worcestershire sauce.
The original recipe stipulated the use of anchovies rather than a fish sauce but it is likely that the two men made fish sauce from the anchovies anyway.
For this reason, many vegetarians and vegans will not eat Worcestershire sauce because of the fish. It is also not suitable for anyone with a fish allergy.
That being said, there are now vegan versions of the sauce that are proving popular for those who still enjoy the taste of the sauce.
It is used in many different cuisines, but due to the origins being in the United Kingdom, the original use was as an accompaniment to Welsh rarebit, stews, and beef dishes.
It is also popular in Asian cuisine, due to its umami taste. In Shanghai it is known as ‘spicy soy sauce’ and it is also used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Cantonese cooking.
It is a popular sauce for dipping dim sum. In China, Worcestershire sauce uses soy sauce instead of anchovies for the umami flavor.
Nowadays it is used in many different recipes as a flavor enhancer. It is added to dishes such as chili con carne, burgers before frying them, on steaks, in Caesar salads, in deviled eggs, and even in cocktails.
The Bloody Mary cocktail uses Worcestershire sauce as one of its main components - tomato juice, vodka, and a dash of the sauce.
It is an ingredient that features in many recipes, but what happens when you don’t have a bottle of it sitting in your pantry? In the next section of this article, we are going to be exploring the Worcestershire sauce substitutes you didn’t know existed.
Worcestershire Sauce Substitutes You Didn’t Know Existed: what are they?
When it comes to finding substitutes for certain ingredients you must first work out what exactly that ingredient would have brought to the recipe overall.
Was it suggested for its saltiness? Perhaps its sweetness? Maybe it has a distinctly sour taste? The ingredient you will be using instead must also bring this same element to the dish.
With this in mind, you should try and uncover what exactly Worcestershire sauce would have brought to your recipe before finding a suitable alternative.
To help you find your alternative, we have grouped together with the substitutes so you can easily find what is relevant to you.
So whether you are looking for a replacement for the fish element of Worcestershire sauce, we’ve got your back. Perhaps you want the umami flavor to be replaced, we’ve got you covered. Whatever your needs, we have found a substitute for it below!
The flavor components of Worcestershire sauce include salty/savory, umami/sour, sweet, and fermented. In order to properly assess what sort of replacement you should choose, we will be using some of these components as sections.
Salty and Savory Substitutes
This intense, salty, rich flavor makes an excellent substitute for Worcestershire sauce, perhaps because they are both well-loved British foods.
Add in a small amount of Marmite in place of Worcestershire sauce. To make it even more exact, you can add the Marmite in with a splash of soy, lemon juice, and hot water.
Think of this as the Australian version of Marmite. Vegemite is very similar in taste to Marmite, and so it makes an equally perfect substitute in place of Worcestershire sauce.
Again, you can simply add in a small amount on its own, or mix it with soy sauce, lemon juice and hot water to get it even more like Worcestershire sauce.
Plain old salt
Well, this is a given, right? Adding in some salt will certainly do the job of flavoring your recipe. Sure, it may not have all the other elements of Worcestershire sauce, but not everyone likes those elements!
Try adding just a pinch or two of salt instead of Worcestershire sauce. You may even want to pair this step with one of the other recommendations on our list.
For example, take one of the more acidic substitutes like vinegar, add a teaspoon of sugar, and then some salt. It’s not exactly like the famed sauce, but it may just do the trick in a cinch.
HP Sauce or Henderson’s Relish
Two more British classics. Hnederson’s Relish is very much like Worcestershire sauce, but instead of anchovies, the relish uses no animal products making it a great option for vegetarians.
This Sheffield-born condiment is the perfect animal-free replacement for Worcestershire sauce.
HP Sauce, known affectionately as Brown Sauce in parts of the United Kingdom is very similar in taste to Worcestershire sauce, albeit in a much thicker consistency.
The sweet fruitiness pairs well with the savory tartness and slight spice to create a flavor explosion. A great alternative to Worcestershire sauce!
Fish sauce is typically made from small fish that have been left to ferment in salt for a long period of time. They start to break down and a sauce is created from the juices that comes out of them.
These small fish are usually anchovies. As we mentioned earlier, this sounds unappetising but it is actually one of the main components of Worcestershire sauce.
Therefore, it can also be used as a replacement on its own, if you just want to ensure you get that funky, fermented but oh-so-delicious taste. Be careful though, it’s pretty potent so you don’t need a lot of it!
Both savory and umami, anchovy paste is the perfect fermented condiment to use in place of Worcestershire sauce.
Also known as Gentleman's Relish, anchovy paste is made from fermented anchovy fillets, ground up to make a paste.
Typically, vinegar and spices are added to it, too, as well as butter. Add a small amount into your recipe instead of Worcestershire sauce.
Remember though, like fish sauce it’s very potent so you need just a small amount.
Everyone’s got a jar of pickles in their refrigerator, right? Nothing says fermented more than a delicious splash of pickle juice.
The tart, sweet, salty flavors lend themselves well to most recipes in place of Worcestershire sauce. Often, pickles have other ingredients in there too, such as dill, mustard seeds and more.
This gives many of the same flavor components as Worcestershire sauce. Use the same amount as you would the sauce in your recipes, and perhaps add in some soy sauce for an extra kick!
If you want the sweet element of Worcestershire sauce in your food, we recommend using some brown sugar.
In our opinion, it’s probably best to add the sugar in one some of the other ingredients in this list, to make it more alike to Worcestershire sauce.
You could try mixing it in with soy sauce and a dash of vinegar of your choice.
The deep sweetness of this sugar has a caramel taste and works well with the salty and acidic flavors of soy and vinegar to create a similar taste sensation to Worcestershire sauce.
Likewise, when adding honey to your recipe in place of Worcestershire sauce, we recommend mixing it with other ingredients for a better flavor.
You could add some honey in with fish sauce and vinegar to make it more similar to the original ingredient.
Molasses is often used in Worcestershire sauce as one of the main ingredients, and so it is common to see this listed as a substitute, especially when mixed in with vinegar, salt, and fish sauce.
You will need a small amount of molasses as it is very strong and can be overpowering.
Umami or Sour Substitutes
Tamarind is yet another substitute for worcestershire sauce that also features as a main component of it. The very definition of umami, this ingredient is the key in many Asiain dishes such as Pad Thi and more.
Use some tamarind paste and add in some white wine vinegar, soy sauce and some molasses to create a vegan friendly Worcestershire sauce alternative.
If you wanted to, you could add in some fish sauce too, to make it even more similar.
Soy is an excellent substitute for Worcestershire sauce when paired with other ingredients, as you can probably see by now. However, it also works very well on its own.
The flavor of soy is very distinct, just like Worcestershire sauce, and whilst they are not identical in taste, they are certainly similar.
Also, most people are likely to have a bottle of soy sauce at home, whereas it may be less common to have a bottle of Worcestershire sauce hanging around.
Made from fermented soybean paste, miso could also be used in place of Worcestershire sauce in many of your favorite recipes. The umami taste works well alone, added in with hot water.
However, if you want to make it even more like Worcestershire sauce, you could also mix in some vinegar of your choice, perhaps a dash of molasses or sugar, and a little bit of fish sauce, too.
The famous all-purpose seasoning sauce from Maggi is an excellent substitute for Worcestershire sauce if you are looking for something with strong umami elements.
It is a super dark sauce that is very much like soy made from hydrolyzed vegetable proteins. It’s sweet, it’s salty, it makes your face pucker… it’s perfect!
This is super strong stuff though, so you do not need to use as much as you would Worcestershire sauce.
We have mentioned vinegar numerous times already in our article, as it is excellent to mix with other ingredients to make a Worcestershire sauce style substitute.
However, we felt it could also be used alone in a inch, so we wanted to give it its own section. Vinegar is less umami in taste, and more sour.
There are so many different types of vinegar and what you use will be dictated by your preferences and what you have available to you.
White wine vinegar and rice vinegar work well when used alongside fish sauce, tamarind, and a sweeter substance. However, the more full bodied vinegars like sherry, red wine, and balsamic may also work well alone.
This is because they have been aged, giving them a slightly fermented taste.
There you have it! A whole article dedicated to all of the different substitutes and replacements for Worcestershire sauce.
Who knew there were so many? It’s such a peculiar and specific flavor that it’s hard to imagine something else quite like it.
However, when you consider what it is made from, you can quickly identify other ingredients like it.
Remember, the most important thing you can do when finding a suitable substitute is work out what the sauce would have been bringing to your recipe overall.
This can then help you decide what would be good in its place. For example, if you wanted to use Worcestershire sauce in a cocktail like a Bloody Mary, then you probably wouldn’t want to add in anchovy paste as the substitute.
You’d likely choose something less potent and with a thinner consistency.
Likewise, adding Worcestershire sauce to your devilled egg mixture may require something like vinegar and soy mixed together to make a suitable substitute.
Use your knowledge of all the cooking you have done before and trust your instinct when choosing the most suitable substitute for your needs.
We hope this article has been a very useful one, providing you with a great base and all the information you need to make informed decisions about Worcestershire sauce substitutes!