Worcestershire sauce. Goodness knows that it’s probably taken each of us a few tries to say and spell that correctly. It’s savory, umami flavor is actually the key to unlocking the best meat-free dishes you’ll ever taste. Let’s learn more about what’s in this sauce, how we can make it vegan, and how to use it in the kitchen.
Worcestershire sauce is a British condiment first created by chemists John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins in the 1830s — although it’s more accurate to say that they were the first to commercialize Worcestershire sauce, as some sources point to the use of fermented fish sauce in European cooking as early as the 17th-century. If we want to go even further back in time, it is entirely possible that Worcestershire sauce was born of a Greco-Roman fermented fish sauce called garum, which was a staple condiment in ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantium cuisine. Fascinating, right?
In spite of its unclear history (one source, for example, suggests that colonialists adapted it from an Indian recipe while another sauce contradicts that claim), Lea and Perrins are generally credited with creating the Worcestershire sauce that we are familiar with today. It is said that the pair developed their first batch on-site at their pharmacy but, finding found the flavor of the formula to be too strong and unpalatable. Allegedly, they abandoned the Worcestershire sauce in a barrel in their basement. 18 months later when they were looking to clear out some space, they found the barrel and tasted the sauce. It had transformed from being unfit or human consumption to a savory, mellow sauce thanks to fermentation. Worcestershire sauce was born. Soon after, they founded the company Lea & Perrins, which still makes and sells Worcestershire sauce today.
Worcestershire sauce is typically made from distilled white vinegar, molasses, tamarind, hot chilis, warm spices, and fermented anchovies, which gives it its powerful, pungent scent and umami flavor. But, there are some differences between brands, mainly between American and British versions. While the American version uses distilled white vinegar as the base, British versions of the sauce use malt vinegar.
The original recipe for Worcestershire sauce may include anchovies, but today, you can find vegan versions in stores. Annie’s Homegrown and Edward & Sons both carry fish-free Worcestershire sauce, but they can be tricky to track down online and in stores.
Thankfully, making your own Worcestershire sauce without anchovies is easy – and it’s a good thing because so many marinades would not be the same without it. To make your own Worcestershire sauce, combine 1 cup cider vinegar, 1/3 cup dark molasses, 1/4 cup tamari, 1/4 cup water, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, 1/2 tablespoon dry mustard powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice and 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom in a blender. Then, transfer the contents of the blender to a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, then transfer to a sterilized mason jar. Yes, that’s it!
Worcestershire sauce, like fish sauce in Vietnamese cooking, is an incredibly versatile ingredient that can be added to just about and soup, stew, sauce, or marinades. If the Bloody Mary is any indication, it’s also an interesting addition to certain drinks.
Worcestershire sauce has a deep, umami flavor, so it is a great go-to ingredient for making plant-based meats taste meaty. For example, in this Braised Seitan Short Ribs in Spicy Chili Sauce, Worcestershire sauce is used in the spicy chili sauce — and everyone knows that great-tasting meat dishes are really all about using the right sauce and seasoning. For example, in these BBQ Chickpea Burgers, vegan Worcestershire sauce is used in both the patties and the homemade barbecue sauce.
This doesn’t just apply to plant-based meat — you can do the same with mushrooms, which are another popular meat replacer. The mushrooms in these Portobello Gyros are marinated in vegan Worcestershire sauce, maple syrup, and cumin to make them savory, smoky, and sweet. It’s what makes the “bacon” in this Portobello Bacon BLT Sandwich so good — and I highly recommend adding it to any other vegan bacon you try. It’s also the special ingredient in the sauce for this Eggplant Paprikash. Try adding a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce in any plant-based dish where vegetables are standing in for meat. It will always make the flavor more savory and closer to “the real thing.” Check out this guide to making delicious marinades for plant-based dishes for more ideas and try out the different sauces with tempeh, tofu, seitan, cauliflower, and other vegetables. Plus, you can use it to make veggie meatballs and vegan seafood taste amazing.
It might sound redundant but vegan Worcestershire sauce is a great ingredient for, well … sauce. It makes a great addition to Vegan Steak Diane Sauce, a classic American dish consisting of steak, mushrooms, aromatics, cream, and truffles that are cooked in brandy and served with Worcestershire sauce. You can use this recipe to make a vegan version with seitan or use it to sauté your favorite veggies. It’s also used in the vegan version of Mississipi Comeback Sauce, a creamy, spicy, and savory sauce that goes perfectly with any veggie burger. And it adds that extra touch of umami to the pizza sauce in this Bangin’ Buffalo Cauliflower Pizza.
Regardless of whether or not you want to make meat-free dishes taste meaty, vegan Worcestershire sauce is just one of those condiments that any cook should always have in their pantry.
If you enjoy articles like this and want more, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App. For those that don’t have it, it’s a brilliant food app available for both Android and iPhone. It’s a great resource for anyone looking to cut out or reduce allergens like meat, dairy, soy, gluten, eggs, grains, and more find awesome recipes, cooking tips, articles, product recommendations and how-tos. The app shows you how having diet/health/food preferences can be full of delicious abundance rather than restrictions.
The Food Monster app has over 8000+ recipes and 500 are free. To access the rest, you have to pay a subscription fee but it’s totally worth it because not only do you get instant access to 8000+ recipes, you get 10 NEW recipes every day! You can also make meal plans, add bookmarks, read feature stories, and browse recipes across hundreds of categories like diet, cuisine, meal type, occasion, ingredient, popular, seasonal, and so much more!
Lead image source: Vegan Worcestershire Sauce