The Absolute Best Worcestershire Sauce Substitutes

The unsung hero of the back of the fridge. There's a reason this often-forgotten underdog is chef Alex Guarnaschelli's go-to ingredient for savory dishes, and what Jamie Oliver uses to kick his brussels sprouts up a notch.

Worcestershire sauce is a fermented condiment made from a combination of ingredients, including vinegar, molasses, sugar, anchovies, cloves, onion, garlic, and chili pepper extract, per Chili Pepper Madness. It may have been developed during the 18th century (in the sauce's namesake city Worcester, England, via MasterClass), but it remains a staple in the contemporary kitchen. Worcestershire is the secret weapon you never know you need — until you don't have it.

Next time you're making shepherd's pie for a table of hungry bellies, or a pot of meatballs for a crowded tailgate, Worcestershire sauce will be there, waiting for you to remember its uniquely tangy, umami flavor, and reach for it — unless you've run out. If you find yourself without the star ingredient of that savory dish, or simply want to switch up the flavor profile a bit, here are the absolute best Worcestershire substitutes. (Not that it can ever truly be replaced, of course...)

Try out soy sauce

Soy sauce isn't just for teriyaki chicken and dumplings. Statistically, you're likely to already have a bottle of soy sauce on hand since Americans use a lot of the stuff. Roughly 2.2 million Americans went through at least four bottles of soy sauce in 2020, per Statista.

According to Kikkoman, soy sauce is a combination of soybeans, wheat, water, and salt. Although they don't share many common ingredients, soy sauce can be a surprisingly fitting substitute for Worcestershire. Soy sauce and Worcestershire both have a unique, rich flavor, a dark color, and a heavily fermented taste, says the Kitchen Community. To use soy sauce as a substitute, it recommends simmering fresh grated ginger in ¼ cup of water and incorporating it into the soy sauce. The added ginger flavor will mirror Worcestershire's tangy, umami-heavy flavor profile. Molasses, it says, will also do the trick, if ginger isn't your thing.

Give fish sauce a go

Fish sauce might be the unofficial champion of umami flavor. Umami, a term that was coined in 1908 by Tokyo University chemist Kikunae Ikeda, has been lauded as the "fifth taste," via The Guardian.

Fish sauce's distinct briny smell and salty, fermented taste make it a popular ingredient in Thai and Vietnamese dishes, per BBC Good Food. According to the South China Morning Post, fish sauce is made from a combination of fish and salt, which is fermented for up to 12 months. Then, a concentrated liquid containing the fish extract is drained from the fermentation tanks, and this liquid is bottled as fish sauce.

Fish sauce and Worcestershire are linked by the prominent umami in their flavor profiles. Since both sauces are fermented and feature anchovies as a main ingredient, they boast the same strong, fishy taste, according to Healthline. When substituting, it recommends using an equal ratio of Worcestershire to fish sauce.

To further mimic Worcestershire's signature taste, Spiceography suggests mixing your fish sauce with lemon or lime juice to make a condiment called "nam prik pla," which has a similar flavor dimensionality as Worcestershire.

Balsamic vinegar is another excellent dupe

There are countless different types of vinegar in the culinary world, but of these, balsamic vinegar is one of the most versatile.

According to Substitute Cooking, balsamic vinegar is made from unfermented grape juice, which is responsible for its opaque dark color and sweet, acidic taste. Since vinegar is Worcestershire's main ingredient, says the Stone Soup, using balsamic as a substitute keeps the sauce's tart sweetness from getting lost in translation. 

To substitute, Know Your Pantry recommends combining equal parts balsamic vinegar and tamarind paste. Tamarind is a fruit pod collected from trees native to Northern Africa and Asia, reports Food Network. The tamarind pods contain a sticky pulp, which is extracted and typically made into tamarind sauce, paste, juices, and concentrates. 

Combined with balsamic vinegar's acidic sweetness, the earthy flavor and thick viscosity of the tamarind make for an apt Worcestershire substitute.