Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Lea & Perrins and the Original Worcester Sauce

by Regina Jeffers

Lea & Perrins is a UK-based food company (now a division of H. J. Heinz Company), originating in Worchester, England. A U.S. subsidiary manufactures Lea & Perrins (based on authentic Indian recipes) in New Jersey. Lea & Perrins is best known as the maker of Lea & Perrins: The Original and Genuine Worcester Sauce, which was first sold in 1838 by John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins, dispensing chemists from Worchester.

First made at 60 Broad Street, Worcester, England, the Lea & Perrins product has been produced in the current Midlands Road factory in Worchester since 16 October 1897. Made with anchovy (which makes it a "no-no" for pure vegetarians), Worcester sauce is often found in Welsh rarebit, Caesar salad, and Oysters Kirkpatrick, as well as to flavour cocktails such as a Bloody Mary or Caesar (a Canadian favourite), and the Mexican beer cocktail, Michelada.

However, Worcester sauce can be used in many other dishes. In fact, a 2005 advertising campaign had the traditional Worcester sauce being added to "fish and chips" to become "splish and chips," as well as "bangers and mash" being transformed into "bangers and splash." A handy-dandy website (splishme.com) offered hints and cooking tips for "splishing" and "splashing" Lea & Perrins.

"Garum" is a fermented fish sauce, which was extremely admired in Greco-Roman cuisine. Other fermented anchovy sauces grew in popularity in 17th Century Europe. Although there are multiple stories as to the original "Worchester sauce," the roots likely come from the British rule of the Indian subcontinent and the East India Company in the 1830s. One possible source is the story of "Lord Marcus Sandys (ex-Governor of Bengal)," who reportedly came across the Indian version of the sauce and commissioned local apothecaries to recreate it. However, in his privately published history of Lea & Perrins on the 100th Anniversary of the Midlands Road plant, Brian Keogh said, "No Lord Sandys was ever governor of Bengal, or as far as any records show, ever in India."

In reality, the nobleman in question was Arthur Moyses William Sandys, 2nd Baron Sandys (1792-1860) of Ombersley Court, Worchestershire, Lieutenant-General and politician, a member of the House of Commons. The original bottles' contained a line from Messrs Lea and Perrins, which said, "from the recipe of a nobleman in the county." Arthur Marcus Cecil Sandys, 3rd Baron Sandys (1798-1863) was Arthur Moyses William Sandys' brother and heir; yet, "Marcus" did not succeed to the title until 1860, some five and twenty years after the Lea & Perrins brand hit the marketplace. Ironically, the barony in the Sandys family was revived in 1802 for the second baron's mother, Mary Sandys Hill, so at the date of the supposed "from the recipe of a nobleman in the county" claim, "Lord" Sandys was actually a Lady. Naturally, propriety would never tolerate a reference to a "lady" on a commercially bottled sauce.

The development of Lea & Perrins Worcester sauce came about purely by accident. The sauce first made was so strong it was considered inedible. Therefore, the barrel containing it was "banished" to a storage area and forgotten for a few years. When it was rediscovered by Messrs Lea and Perrins, they found with fermentation the sauce was excellent.

Major Francis Jones, historian and Herald for Wales claims the recipe can be attributed to Captain Henry Lewis Edwardes 1788-1866. A veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, Edwardes, who came from Rhyd-y-gors, Carmarthenshire, held the position of Deputy-Lieutenant of Carmarthenshire. According to Jones, Edwardes brought the recipe home from his many visits to India. Unfortunately, Jones does not explain how the Messrs Lea and Perrins came by the recipe.

The Original & Genine Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce was made from malt vinegar (from barley), spirit vinegar, molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies, tamarind extract, onions, garlic, spice, and flavouring.
The "spice and flavouring" reportedly includes cloves, soy sauce, lemons, pickles and peppers. Brian Company accountant Brian Keogh supposed recovered notes from the 1800s, which had been dumped in a ship and which listed the original ingredients. Said documents are to be placed on display at the Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum. Apart from distribution for the home market, Lea & Perrins supplies this recipe in concentrate form to be bottled abroad.

The U.S. version of Lea & Perrins differs from the British recipe. The U.S. version lists vinegar, molasses, sugar (quit using high fructose corn syrup in 2011), anchovies, water, onions, salt, garlic, tamarind concentrate, cloves, natural flavorings and chili pepper extract as its ingredients. Notice the use of distilled white vinegar in used to replace the malt vinegar in the UK product.

Some claim the two products taste the same, while others find the American version to be sweeter, less spicy, and containing less "kick." The American variety is also thicker than the UK one. The American product is sold in a dark bottle with a beige label and wrapped in paper. Lea & Perrins USA claims "this practice is a vestige of shipping practices from the 19th Century, when the product was imported from England." The U.S. distributor also claims its Worcestershire sauce is "the oldest commercially bottled condiment in the U.S." (History of Lea and Perrins)


Regina Jeffers, a public classroom teacher for thirty-nine years, considers herself a Jane Austen enthusiast. She is the author of nine Austen-inspired novels, including Darcy’s Passions, Darcy’s Temptation, Vampire Darcy’s Desire, Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion, The Phantom of Pemberley, Christmas at Pemberley, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, Honor and Hope, and the upcoming The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy. She also writes Regency romances: The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, A Touch of Velvet, A Touch of Cashémere, A Touch of Grace, A Touch of Love and The First Wives’ Club. A Time Warner Star Teacher and Martha Holden Jennings Scholar, Jeffers often serves as a consultant in language arts and media literacy. Currently living outside Charlotte, North Carolina, she spends her time with her writing, gardening, and her adorable grandson. 


  1. shared and tweeted, I had no idea it was so old. Thank you Regina.

  2. Er, do you mean Worcester/ Worcestershire sauce? I keep a bottle at all times. It goes nicely with stir fries and, with soy sauce, honey and garlic, makes a nice marinade for steak or chops.

  3. Always keep a bottle in the cupboard but great to read its history thanks Diana

  4. Yes its Worcester, not Worchester, this is a common mistake in the US

  5. My father's favourite condiment. When I graduated from Culinary Management in Toronto, one of our instructors was from the UK. He put Worchester sauce in everything. Another instructor was from Germany. He put Aromat in everything. One day we had a guest instructor. He asked our class to name the basic flavouring agents. The correct response was onions, celery and carrots. Imagine his surprise when the whole class yelled out in unison " Worchester sauce and Aromat", which if our regular instructors didn't taste in our finished products, we got lower marks.

  6. Just read the response above mine and sorry about my spelling.


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