How we tested
We use Worcestershire sauce to add salty, punchy kick and depth to all sorts of dishes. This ingredient originated in the English county of Worcester in the early 19th century. As the story goes, a wealthy Brit who had recently returned from India commissioned chemists John Lea and William Perrins to create a sauce reminiscent of those he’d enjoyed abroad. Lea and Perrins made the sauce to his specifications but found it unpalatable, so it sat, forgotten, in a corner of their shop’s basement until someone decided to try it a few years later and discovered that fermentation had transformed it into a sauce with incredible depth.
While no manufacturer wants to give up its exact recipe, most Worcestershire sauce today is made with onions, garlic, salt, anchovies, vinegar, spices, tamarind, molasses, and sugar. The sauce is aged for a few weeks to a few months before being strained, diluted with water, and bottled. To find the best version, we rounded up four nationally available Worcestershire sauces and sampled them plain, in barbecue sauce, and in a grilled steak recipe that uses a full cup in the marinade.
Texture wasn’t important in our findings, but flavor certainly was. Two manufacturers made their sauces vegan by omitting anchovies and substituting ingredients like onion oil, mushrooms, and soy sauce. Unfortunately, these sauces didn’t quite match the subtle meatiness and depth of Worcestershire made with anchovies. Tasters also singled out one of the vegan sauces for its overly pungent notes of onion (from the addition of onion oil) when sampled plain and in the steak. We preferred sauces that were balanced, without any one ingredient being too assertive.
Vegan products also tried to compensate by jacking up the sodium: One sauce contained 130 milligrams of sodium per 1-teaspoon serving—twice as much as the 65 milligrams in our top-ranked sauces. Products with moderate saltiness allowed us better control over the final flavor of the dish. That said, these flaws of balance and salinity didn’t matter when we tasted the sauces in barbecue sauce, a recipe that contains a lot of potent ingredients—if you need only a few teaspoons of Worcestershire for a pungent recipe, it’s likely any product will do.
Overall, tasters preferred Lea & Perrins Original Worcestershire Sauce for its bright, balanced flavor; incredible depth; and subtle kick of heat. It’s no wonder this product has stuck around for almost 200 years.
Twenty-one America’s Test Kitchen staffers tasted four nationally available bottled Worcestershire sauces plain and in our Cook's Country recipe for Grilled Bourbon Steaks; a smaller group of tasters sampled each product in barbecue sauce. Ingredient lists and sodium levels were pulled from nutritional labels. Sodium levels shown are for a 1-teaspoon serving.