Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Patience Is a Virtue: Worcestershire Sauce

Lea and Perrins ad
for the Worcestershire Sauce
In 1830’s a new sauce was produced in Great Britain. It became a popular condiment to various recipes. From steak, to salads, and to soups, the Worcestershire sauce gave a unique taste to it. But the background of how Worcestershire sauce came to be was shrouded with mystery along with its recipe.

Worcestershire sauce beginnings could be traced back to the 19th century, during the apex of British imperial power. Literally, it was the Empire where the sun never sets. From Canada to the most isolated island in the Pacific, British sovereignty reigns over them. Thus, British military and administrators were also spread across the globe. In Asia in particular, British military and the colonial authorities maintained a strong present in its dominion. Soldiers and officials stationed in the orient learned about the cuisine and different ingredients that were rare in Europe. Spices such as cloves, cinnamon, and condiments like soy sauce and curry were new to many soldiers. It was unique experience to some. And some men enjoyed their stay and their food as well. British men tended to make their unique concoction of sauce made of different ingredients available in their stationed area.

Among these British officials that made their own unique sauce was a certain Marcus Sandys. Sandys stayed in the orient, in particular as Governor in Bengal until the 1830’s. As he returned home to Worcestershire, England, he then became nostalgic of his stay back in India. In particular, he missed his own unique sauce that he used back during his service in the East. And so, he then asked a duo of grocers slash chemist that owned a shop in Broad Street. William Henry Perrins and John Wheeley Lea were given the tasked by Sandys to recreate his favorite exotic sauce.

The pair then recreated the sauce in their dismay. In a barrel they mixed the ingredients. The exact ingredients were kept secret by Lea and Perrins. But probably it contained vinegar, molasses, garlic, tamarinds, and different kinds of spices. The result was a spicy irritating smelling sauce. It pleased the client, but the two grocers were disgusted. After Sandys took the amount of sauce he needed, the two left the remaining sealed tight in a barrel. Eventually, the barrel was forgotten for a very long time. Until one day in 1838, while making an inventory and cleaning their storage, they saw once again the barrel containing the pungent sauce. However, as they opened it once more, it was no longer pungent. On the contrary, it was appetizing in smell. Curiosity took over their minds and tasted the sauce. Into their surprise, the sauce became suddenly delicious after it was matured. The two shared to their customers the sauce by selling it in bottles. They marketed the sauce as Worcestershire sauce, in honor of their county.

The Worcestershire sauce brought huge profits for the two. By 1843, they were advertising it to newspaper. By 1845, they had built a huge factory to manufacture large amounts of Worcestershire sauce. A decade later, they were producing 30,000 bottle of the sauce and even began exporting it to other countries, including the United States.

The story of the Worcestershire sauce, however, was full of mystery. The story of the Worcestershire sauce came from Lea and Perrins. In an advertisement in 1843, they mentioned that the recipe came from a nobleman in the country, which was Marcus Sandys. But the truth, there were no Sandys appointed as Governor of Bengal. Thus the story became disputed whether truth.

Whatever the truth that Lea and Perrins knew about the recipe, the recipe that they spread added a new flavor to different recipes. It became one of the most popular condiments in the world. Whether fact or not, the story also tells of how slow food and patience could bring a new and beautiful taste unique to people’s palate. 

See also:
Henry Heinz
Potato Chips

Ayto, J. The Diner's Dictionary: Word Origins of Food and Drink. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Collingham, L. Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Jack, A. What Caesar Did for My Salad: The Curious Stories Behind Our Favorite Foods. New York: Penguin Group, 2010.

Salter, J. & K. Salter. Life is Meal: A Food Lover's Book of Days. Toronto: Random House, 2006.

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