Worcestershire Sauce is generally pronounced “Wooster Sauce” in the UK.
Containing anchovies, it is probably about as close a taste to the ancient Roman fermented fish sauce ‘garum’ as a modern palate would want to get. Garum was wildly popular in the Roman world, made by allowing fish intestines to ferment in a closed vessel in the sun. The resultant liquor that came off was said to be mellow flavoured. We now know it would be rich in monosodium glutamate, so strong in umami and able to bring out flavour in meat very well.
The story of Worcestershire Sauce’s origins in the 1830’s are debated, but the most probable tale is that an English noble, Lady Sandys, received a recipe for curry powder from her author friend Mrs. Grey, who had the recipe from India. Lady Sandys asked the local chemist shop, Messers Lea and Perrins, to make up the recipe. It proved far too raw and strong to use, so the chemist left the barrel they made in their cellar. A few years later they came across the barrel and tried the contents and, having fermented over time, found it tasted devine. To this day Worcestershire Sauce is fermented the same way.
Worcestershire Sauce was first sold to the public in 1837. It is still made, as it always has been, in Worcester. Since 1930 ownership of the Lea and Perrins company passed through the hands of HP Foods, Imperial Tobacco Company, Danone and now Heinz.
The label still looks pretty much like the original label. Incidentally, if you ever visit a packaging museum – such as Robert Opie’s Museum of Brands – you will find that the original designs of many of today’s major brands are surprisingly familiar.
People of the Orthodox Jewish faith are not allowed to mix fish with meat, so they are denied Worcestershire Sauce to flavour their meat.