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Worcestershire Sauce

Published June 2016
Update: November 2016
We recently learned French's made changes to the ingredients and recipe of their Worcestershire sauce. We tried the new product, and while tasters noticed that it is lighter in color and less spicy than the old French's, we still preferred Lea & Perrins and our results stand as is.

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.

Methodology

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.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Skippy Peanut Butter

In a contest that hinged on texture, tasters thought this "smooth, "creamy" sample was "swell" and gave it top honors, both plain and baked into cookies. Its rave reviews even compensated for a slightly "weak" nut flavor that didn't come through as well as that of other brands in the pungent satay sauce.

$2.39 for 16.3-oz. jar (15 cents per oz.)*
Recommended

Jif Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The big favorite in satay sauce, this peanut butter's "dark, roasted flavor"—helped by the addition of molasses—stood out particularly well against the other heady ingredients, and it made cookies with "nice sweet-salty balance." Plus, as the top-rated palm oil-based sample, it was "creamy," "thick," and better emulsified than other "natural" contenders.

$2.29 for 18-oz. jar (13 cents per oz.)*

Reese's Peanut Butter

This is what peanut butter should be like, " declared one happy taster, noting specifically this product's "good," "thick" texture and "powerful peanut flavor." In satay sauce, however, some tasters felt that heavier body made for a "pasty" end result.

$2.59 for 18-oz. jar (14 cents per oz.)*

Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The only other palm oil-based peanut butter to make the "recommended" cut, this contender had a "looser" texture than its winning sibling but still won fans for being "super-smooth." Tasters thought it made an especially "well-balanced," "complex" peanut sauce.

$2.39 for 15-oz. jar (16 cents per oz.)*
Recommended with Reservations

Peanut Butter & Co. No-Stir Natural Smooth Operator

Though it says "no-stir" on the label, this "stiff" palm-oil enriched peanut butter was "weeping oil" and came across as "greasy" to some tasters. However, it turned out a respectable batch of cookies—"chewy in the center, crisp and short at the edge"—and made "perfectly good" satay sauce.

$4.49 for 18-oz. jar (25 cents per oz.)*

Maranatha Organic No Stir Peanut Butter

On the one hand, this organic peanut butter produced cookies that were "soft and sturdy" yet "moist," with "knockout peanut flavor." On the other hand, eating it straight from the jar was nearly impossible; its "loose," "liquid-y," and "dribbly" consistency had one taster wonder if it was "peanut soup."

$5.69 for 16-oz. jar (36 cents per oz.)*
Not Recommended

Smart Balance All Natural Rich Roast Peanut Butter

Besides being unpalatably "tacky" and "sludgy," this "natural" peanut butter suffered from an awful "fishy" flavor with a "weird acidic aftertaste" that tasters noted in all three applications. Our best guess as to the culprit? The inclusion of flax seed oil, an unsaturated fat that's highly susceptible to rancidity.

$3.59 for 16-oz. jar (22 cents per oz.)*

Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter

With its only additive a negligible amount of salt, the only truly natural peanut butter in the lineup elicited comments ranging from mild dissatisfaction ("needs enhancement with salt and sugar") to outright disgust ("slithery," "chalky," "inedible"). Cookies were "dry and crumbly" with a "hockey puck" texture, and the satay sauce was "stiff," "gritty," and "gloopy."

$2.69 for 16-oz. jar (17 cents per oz.)*