Worcestershire is a popular fermented condiment that originated in the city of Worcester in Worcestershire, England, a hundred and fifty years or so ago. It’s defined as a spicy, dark brown liquid that’s added to food to increase flavor.1
Is it vegan? No, traditional Worcestershire (the form that accounts for 99% of the commercial sauce you’ll encounter) is not considered vegan. It contains fish, so while pescatarians can consume it, it’s not suitable for vegans.
I get this question quite often because the condiment is so popular and is commonly used as an ingredient in other condiments and sauces.
It’s among one of the most common condiments along with mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, tartar sauce, relish, salsa, chili sauce, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, horseradish, chutney, and steak sauce.2
Fish: The Non-Vegan Ingredient in Worcestershire Sauce
Ingredients in a bottle of Worcestershire sauce can vary, but the original ingredients included:3
- Spirit vinegar
- Barley malt vinegar
- Molasses and sugar
- Tamarind extract
- Garlic and onions
- Various spice and flavorings
Spices and flavorings are thought to include soy sauce, cloves, lemons, peppers, and pickles.4
Anyway, anchovies are the problematic ingredient for vegans.
I’m sure you’ve heard of anchovies—the pizza topping you were most afraid of as a kid. Anchovies are small, silver-colored fish that belong to the herring family. Anyway, they are a common ingredient in Worcestershire sauce, as well as Caesar salad, and flavor enhancers.
Anchovies are a type of really oily fish.5 They’re caught, cleaned, gutted and salted in brine, the latter of which contributes to their silver color and strong, pungent flavor.
Because they’re so strong, they tend to be used in very small quantities to flavor food products.
This comes as a surprise to many, because when most people think of anchovies, they think of pizza toppings, but wouldn’t expect them to be a part of everyday sauces and condiments.
So, when scanning the ingredients label of food products for vegan-friendliness, make sure to keep an eye out for this ingredient. Unlike shellfish, anchovies don’t constitute a common allergy, so you’ll need to look over the entire ingredients list to spot them.
That’s not to say that anchovies in food products like Worcestershire aren’t a concern for folks with fish allergies.6
In fact, the Codex Alimentarius recommends that anchovy-containing Worcestershire sauce have anchovies included on labels. In fact, the USDA has been known to force recalls on some Worcestershire products that failed to declare the ingredient.7,8
But, the labeling isn’t a requirement in most jurisdictions.
Worcestershire and Anchovies Hidden in Otherwise Vegan Foods
Barbecue Sauce Caution
Barbecue sauce is a common condiment that makes use of Worcestershire sauce. The traditional barbecue sauce recipe contains vinegar, ketchup, onion, Worcestershire sauce, and various seasonings.9
For example, Heinz Texas Style Bold & Spicy BBQ Sauce contains vinegar, tomato paste, water, sugar, salt, blackstrap molasses, lemon juice concentrate, spices, corn starch, natural flavors, garlic and onion powders, paprika, mustard seed, tamarind concentrate, xanthan gum, and anchovies.10
Worcestershire sauce is especially common in recipes for homemade barbecue sauce. For example, I found a recipe for BBQ sauce on PBS.org that contains the stuff.11
Buffalo Sauce Caution
Buffalo Wild Wings Medium Wing Sauce contains cayenne red pepper, distilled vinegar, water, soybean oil, salt, egg yolk, modified food starch, garlic, dehydrated garlic, lemon juice concentrate, xanthan gum, spices, natural and artificial flavors, dehydrated onion, molasses, corn syrup, caramel color, sugar, calcium disodium EDTA (to protect flavor), anchovies, and tamarind.12
I found a recipe from the All Recipes website that called for Worcestershire sauce.13
I wrote an article on vegan-friendly buffalo sauce you can check out here.
Bloody Mary Caution
Bloody Mary is a popular alcoholic drink containing vodka along with tomato juice, and various flavorings and spices including Worcestershire sauce, hot sauces, horseradish, garlic, herbs, olive oil, celery, salt, black pepper, celery salt, and lemon/lime juices.14
Worcestershire Sauce in Non-Vegan Dishes
Not only is Worcestershire sauce typically non-vegan, but it tends to be served with animal products. For example, the condiment tends to be used to enhance food and drink recipes, like Oysters Kirkpatrick, Caesar salad, deviled eggs, beef stew, and chili con carne.
It’s popular in savory dishes because it’s a source of umami flavor (the fifth flavor). For this reason, it’s a favorite for use in red meat entrees like hamburgers, steaks, etc.
Vegan-Friendly Worcestershire Sauce
So, having said that, there are no labeling guidelines (to my knowledge) that require Worcestershire to contain anchovies.
In fact, several brands do, in fact, sell anchovy-free Worcestershire sauce, and such products are often labeled as vegetarian or vegan.15
The demand for anchovy-free condiments also stems from certain religious groups that refrain from eating fish and meat in the same dish.16
Whatever the reason for omitting anchovies, it’s good news for us vegans.
The Wizard’s Gluten-Free Vegan Worcestershire Sauce
- Organic Apple Cider Vinegar
- Filtered Well Water
- Organic Molasses
- Organic Wheat-Free Tamari (Water, Organic Soybeans, Salt)
- Organic Dehydrated Cane Juice
- Organic Lemon Juice Concentrate
- Organic Ginger Puree
- Organic Tamarind
- Organic Cayenne Puree
- Organic Garlic Powder
- Xanthan Gum*
- Organic Shiitake Mushrooms
- Organic Allspice
- Organic Cloves
- Organic Orange Extract
- Organic Lemon Extract
- Natural Onion Flavor (Onion Oil)
- Natural Smoke Flavor
*Xanthan gum is a red flag for some vegans. It’s derived from bacterial fermentation with cultures that tend to be fed glucose and other vegan-friendly simple sugars. However, it can be produced with cultures fed on lactose—typically, lactose in whey protein (an abundant protein in milk). It can also be processed with egg whites.
However, the product is generally considered suitable for vegan consumption, because most xanthan gum is not produced with animal products—especially, for products that are marketed to vegan and vegetarian communities.18
Annie’s Organic Worcestershire Sauce
Ingredients for this one include:19
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Soy Sauce (Water, Soybean, Salt, Wheat, Alcohol)
- Cane Sugar
- Sea Salt
- Xanthan Gum
- Chili Pepper
That’s it for Worcestershire sauce. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Is Horseradish Vegan? (List of Vegan Variations)
- Is Vegetable Oil Vegan?
- Is Buffalo Sauce Vegan?
- Is Alfredo Sauce Vegan? (Store-Bought, Homemade, Restaurants)
- Is Marinara Sauce Vegan? (Store-Bought, Restaurants, Homemade)
- Worcestershire Sauce: Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/worcestershire-sauce
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 115). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Worcestershire Sauce. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worcestershire_sauce
- Schlesinger, Fay (3 November 2009). “It’s out after 170 years, the secret of Worcestershire Sauce… found in a skip”. Daily Mail Online. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/food/article-1224736/Original-Lea-Perrins-Worcestershire-Sauce-recipe-skip.html
- “What’s an oily fish?”. Food Standards Agency. 2004-06-24. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_Standards_Agency
- Steinman, HA (August 1996). “‘Hidden’ allergens in foods”. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 98 (2). https://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(96)70146-X/fulltext
- Alabama Firm Recalls Beef Jerky Products Due to Misbranding and Undeclared Allergen. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/FSIS-Content/internet/main/topics/recalls-and-public-health-alerts/recall-case-archive/archive/2013/fsis-rc-039-2013
- Taylor, SL; Kabourek, JL; Hefle, SL (October 2004). “Fish Allergy: Fish and Products Thereof” (PDF). Journal of Food Science. Institute of Food Technologists. 69 (8). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1750-3841.2004.tb18022.x
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 398). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Heinz Texas Style Bold & Spicy Bbq Sauce, 19.5 Oz Bottle: Heinz® https://www.heinz.com/product/00013000004671
- Barbecue Sauce with Worcestershire Sauce. http://www.pbs.org/food/recipes/barbecue-sauce/
- BUFFALO WILD WINGS Wing Sauce. http://parentsr.us/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Buffalo-Wild-Wings-Sauce-Seasoning-Allergen-Ingredient-Listing-2011.pdf
- Buffalo Chicken Wing Sauce Recipe. John- Kristi- Sarah-Mikde Danben- Raffaelo – https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/219109/buffalo-chicken-wing-sauce/
- “It’s 2009, the 40th Anniversary of ‘Canada’s Drink’: The Caesar”. That’s the Spirit. Archived from the original. https://web.archive.org/web/20130120215217/http://www.thatsthespirit.com/en/drinks/caesar_40th.asp
- Simpson, Alicia C. (2009). Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food: Over 150 Great-Tasting, Down-Home Recipes and 65 Everyday Meal Ideas—for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. The Experiment. pp. 13–. ISBN 978-1-61519-109-3.
- “Ask the Expert: Meat and Fish” https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/ask-the-expert-meat-and-fish/
- Canada’s Online Vegan Shop. https://vegansupply.ca/products/the-wizards-gf-vegan-worcestershire-sauce-281ml
- The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog. https://www.vrg.org/blog/2018/06/28/xanthan-gum-is-vegan-no-egg-whites/
- Organic Vegan Worcestershire Sauce. https://www.annies.com/products/condiments-sauces/organic-vegan-worcestershire-sauce