What Is the Difference Between Soy Sauce & Worcestershire Sauce?

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Soy and Worcestershire sauce often act as substitutes for each other in cooking.
Soy and Worcestershire sauce often act as substitutes for each other in cooking. (Image: Photodisc/Valueline/Getty Images)

Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce are common condiments found on supermarket shelves around the world. You can use soy and Worcestershire interchangeably. This option is particularly useful for vegetarians, since Worcestershire’s ingredient list includes anchovies. Likewise, people with soy allergies can look to Worcestershire for a boost of flavor even though the two products are very different from each other.

History

Soy and Worcestershire sauce have two very different histories. When Buddhism’s popularity in Asia grew, it created a need for vegetarian-friendly seasonings. The original version of soy sauce was simply a paste made with fermented grain. A Zen priest later altered the mix using soy grain and wheat. Finally, in the early 1600s, Maki Shige, fleeing her home during an incursion, began living in Noda where she learned how to brew soy sauce much like we have today.

By comparison, Worcestershire was first sold in 1837 and originated in India. Lea & Perrins sold the product in stores and also encouraged the sauce’s use on passenger ships. This product proved highly successful and Lea & Perrins began exporting it all over the world.

Components

The ingredients in Worcestershire sauce have little in common with soy sauce. Soy comes from mashed soybeans, wheat, enzymes and salt fermented together for about six months. The result is a salty-sweet flavor and a very light body.

The ingredients in Worcestershire include anchovies, vinegar, onions, molasses, cloves, chili pepper extract, high-fructose corn syrup, garlic and tamarind, which gives the sauce a distinctive aroma. The only ingredient both soy and Worcestershire share in common is salt.

Applications

Soy sauce appears predominantly in Asian cuisine. On foods like sashimi it helps mask the fish odor. When heated it adds a distinctive aromatic element and works as a finishing sauce for rice or meat. Additionally, marinating foods in soy gives another level of flavor. Light soy sauce has a strong, salty taste, while dark soy sauce has a rich, full-bodied taste and texture.

Worcestershire has global appeal, particularly as a pairing for beef, but it's very versatile. It appears in sauces, soups, recipes like Welsh Rarebit, and even in beverages like Bloody Marys. Many companies around the world make Worcestershire, each putting a local spin on the classic. For example, the Worcestershire in Japan has fruity notes.

Fermenting

The main difference in the manufacturing process between soy and Worcestershire sauces is the time required for fermenting. Soy sauce needs only six months. Worcestershire sauce requires approximately two years, depending on the maker.

References

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