Worcestershire is incredibly tasty, incredibly weird, and incredibly hard to pronounce. Here’s everything you need to know about the bizarre sauce:
What Is Worcestershire Sauce, Exactly?
Fans of Worcestershire, you might not wanna hear this, but your beloved sauce is made with old fish juice.
There’s a lot going on in that bottle of Worcestershire sauce you have in your pantry. You’ll be amazed (and horrified) to learn that its intense, umami flavor comes from a motley crew of ingredients: fermented anchovies, onions, garlic, vinegar, molasses, tamarind paste, salt, sugar, and a seasoning mixture that can include anything and everything, from cloves to mustard seed.
The sauce is usually made by fermenting anchovies in vinegar for more than a year (yep, a year), then that fish purée is mixed with all the pungent ingredients listed above. Yum.
Worcestershire sauce is used to enhance all sorts of foods, from oysters to deviled eggs. In recent years, it has become a common topping for hamburgers and dipping sauce for steak. It’s also an important ingredient in a Bloody Mary.
WATCH: How to Make Bloody Mary Punch
Where does Worcestershire Sauce Come From?
Worcestershire sauce was invented in—you guessed it—Worcestershire, a county in England, in the 1830s by two chemists named John Weeley Lea and William Henry Perrins. From there, things get a little murky.
Lea and Perrins (whose names you might recognize from their sauce’s label) allegedly told their factory workers the following story:
A nobleman from Worcestershire named Lord Sandys asked the men to recreate a flavor he had experienced in India while he was serving as the governor of Bengal, according to FoodBeast.
The sauce they created was extremely potent and almost inedible. Dejected, they left the sauce to ferment in a barrel. Months later, however, a (very brave and very weird) clerk happened upon the concoction and decided to taste it. Surprise, surprise! It was delicious.
Is this fantastical legend true? Probably not. Aside from the improbability of a clerk tasting stinky rotten fish juice he found in an old barrel, there are no records to indicate that a Lord Sandys was the governor of Bengal—or that he ever even went to India.
There are other theories, including another that involves a Lord Sandys, but the sauce’s exact origins will likely never be known.
How Is It Pronounced?
Contrary to popular belief, “Worcestershire” is not pronounced “wershersterersher.” It’s actually pronounced “woo-stuh-sher.” Like many British places (like Gloucester and Liecester), the “-cester” isn’t said like it’s spelled.
There’s a linguistic phenomenon called vowel reduction, according to Quick and Dirty Tips, that causes some unstressed vowels to be dropped. This is more common in British English than American English. For instance, Americans say “sec-re-tar-y,” while Brits say “sec-re-try.” This phenomenon is likely responsible for the confusion that surrounds Worcestershire’s pronunciation.
However, if you pronounce it wrong, don’t sweat it—you’re certainly not alone.