Laurie Barber |

Classic: John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins tried to make a curry into a sauce, but thought the finished product was too strong for human consumption.

Classic: John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins tried to make a curry into a sauce, but thought the finished product was too strong for human consumption.

I was watching television the other night when a contestant was given four versions of Worcestershire and had to pick the one with the correct spelling. I think the word the contestant picked was wrong.

I remembered the episode because we had a lot of people at our house and I think our supply of Worcestershire sauce dropped to alarming proportions. I can remember somebody saying “do we have any Worcestershire sauce?”

Worcestershire sauce is different from your run-of-the-mill tomato sauce or other type of sauce.

The sauce takes its name from Worcester, the “capital” of Worcestershire.

Worcestershire is a county on the west midlands of England, roughly slightly west of a line between London and Liverpool.

The main ingredients of the sauce in the early stages, at least, have been barley malt vinegar, spirit vinegar, molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies, tamarind extract, onions and garlic. Sometimes other bits have been added.

I don’t know who put all those bits together for consumption, but I consider he was a brave man when he, whoever he was, took his first gulp.

Some people say rotten fish has been involved but I would like to think that goes back to the early days. These days more hygienic methods are used. The history of a similar sauce goes way back to the Roman empire.

A brand was commercialised in 1837 and the original label said the sauce came from “the recipe of a nobleman in the county”.

The company said this particular sauce came from India, but some attempts to check the facts produced many doubts. How it came to England has produced many theories.

The label on a 1900 bottle said: “All dishes such as soups, fish, meat, gravy, game, salads etc are doubly appetizing and digestible when flavoured with…”

Even sandwiches and alcoholic drinks have been involved. The sauce is said to come from a curry powder in a desk belonging to Mrs Grey, author of The Gambler’s Wife.

John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins tried to make the curry into a sauce, but they considered the finished produce was far too strong for human consumption.

They put it aside and a few years later discovered the sauce had fermented and was now palatable, so they released the sauce to the public in 1838. Their company was later sold, and many companies now produce Worcestershire sauce

Lea and Perrins made their fortune and no longer have the sole rights to the sauce.​

Henry Fielding, writing Tom Jones, said in 1749: “They found no fault with my Worcestershire Perry, which I sold them for champagne.” Maybe he received champagne in return for some bottles of sauce. Worcestershire sauce tastes nothing like champagne.

Worcestershire sauce is similar to an early Roman sauce known as garum. Various other varieties are produced in other countries.

But I would still like to know the name of the person who tried it first. He must have had a really bad hangover.

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