The secret ingredient of many a homemade meal

Gail Braznell

Worcester is a city with heritage to be proud of, it’s known for its particularly impressive Cathedral in which King John lies, its fine porcelain, its association with Sir Edward Elgar and the world famous Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce.

Worcestershire sauce has been produced to the same secret formula and process since 1837, through the reigns of six monarchs, Queen Victoria, Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Queen Elizabeth II and during the two world wars production was never stopped, only ever restricted.

For over 170 years Lea & Perrins has been helping cooks around the world transform their cuisine. They spend up to two years carefully creating every batch of Worcestershire Sauce in the historic Midland Road factory in the heart of Worcester to develop the sauce’s much-loved richness and intensity.


The long life of the sauce, its impervious nature to temperature changes and its ability to enhance many a recipe is owed to two aspiring young chemists, John Wheeley Lea born in Feckenham, 1791 and William Henry Perrins born in Chaddesley Corbett, 1793. John Wheeley Lea joined the chemist business of George Guise at Broad Street Worcester in 1812 at the age of 21, three years later he became the sole proprietor and advertised for a partner……

The successful applicant, Mr William Perrins joined forces on 1st January 1823.

Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce was first created by the duo in the 1830’s when Lord Sandys, a nobleman of the area was eager to recreate an exciting taste he had acquired on his travels to Bengal. The story goes that, on his return from India to his native Worcestershire, the nobleman took the recipe to an extremely enterprising pair of Victorian gentlemen – Mr Lea & Mr Perrins.

The necessary ingredients were procured and made precisely to the instructions, resulting in a mixture which to everyone’s surprise tasted harsh and unpleasant. The disappointing concoction, of which they had manufactured a sizeable quantity, was put into jars and consigned to the cellars and forgotten. Some years later on they re-discovered the jars in the cellars, before throwing them out they decided to taste the sauce again. They discovered to their delight that the ageing process had transformed an unpleasant tasting mixture into the delicious savoury sauce we all know and love and It soon became all the rage in England.

In one of the earliest newspaper advertisements, a royal chef revealed to the readers that it was a long-established favourite with his employers and often asked for by families of the highest rank who visited the royal residence. This royal gossip was eagerly pounced on and soon no respectable table was complete without a bottle of this trendy condiment.

Lea & Perrins cleverly cashed in on the idea of the “secret” recipe and built up a huge mystique around the exact constituents of their sauce. This secrecy, whilst foxing jealous imitators, was to help enormously with the success of Worcestershire Sauce, the sales of which were to earn these two shrewd Victorian chemists a vast fortune.

And so its popularity continues to spread and is now exported to over 130 countries…..

The secret recipe- Only a lucky few know the exact

To this day, the exact recipe remains a closely guarded secret and only a few people know the exact ingredients, proportions and manufacturing processes involved in the manufacture of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce.

The recipe has only ever been known to a few people at any one time, with these people not being made aware of the manufacturing process at the same time, factory workers are not included in the secret and no one person is aware of the whole process. Code names such as Add 1lb of the bulldog, bulldog clip or bull car were once given to ingredients to confuse matters even further.

It is now possible to reveal some of the ingredients such as malt vinegar, molasses, anchovies, onion, sugar, salt, garlic and tamarind, these, after years of ageing, mixing, straining and maturing, result in that mouthwatering savoury liquid which fills the well-loved long neck bottles.

A recipe treat:


BBQ Ribs with Homemade Coleslaw, Serves: 2

Ingredients for the BBQ ribs
1 rack of pork ribs (900g)
2 tbsp of honey
2 tbsp of dark soft brown sugar
1 tbsp of smoked paprika
Generous pinch of cayenne pepper
Cider vinegar (50ml)
Tomato ketchup (100g)
3 tbsp of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce

For the cabbage slaw
½ a red cabbage
1 large carrot
2 spring onions
1 tbsp of dark soft brown sugar
2 tbsp of yoghurt
1 tbsp of cider vinegar
1 tsp of Dijon mustard
2 tbsp of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce

Preheat an oven to 160ºC.
Add the honey, sugar, smoked paprika and cayenne pepper to a small saucepan and heat until everything is dissolved together.
Pour in 100ml of water, the vinegar, tomato ketchup and Worcestershire sauce and heat to a simmer.
Season the ribs with salt and pepper and place them into a deep roasting tray.
Pour the marinade over the ribs and splash a cup of water into the base of the tray. Cover with foil.
Place the ribs in the oven and cook for 1 ½ hours.
Remove the foil, spoon the sauce in the tray over the ribs and add another 100ml of water if the marinade is too sticky.
Increase the oven temperature to 180ºC and cook the ribs for another 20 minutes.
Cut the cabbage into quarters lengthways and slice finely before placing in a bowl.
Peel the carrots and dice along with the spring onions.
Throw all the coleslaw ingredients in with the cabbage and toss together.
Serve the ribs with the coleslaw for an amazing meal!