Worcestershire sauce is a popular condiment used in many cuisines around the world. It provides a savory, tangy flavor to meats, gravies, marinades and more. But for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, determining if Worcestershire sauce is safe can be tricky.
Some brands of Worcestershire sauce contain wheat, barley or other gluten-containing ingredients. But the key ingredients in traditional Worcestershire sauce recipes are gluten-free. With some detective work and careful label reading, those who need to avoid gluten can often find variety of gluten-free Worcestershire sauces to enjoy.
What is Worcestershire Sauce?
Worcestershire sauce is a fermented liquid condiment created in Worcester, England during the first half of the 19th century. The original recipe included a blend of distilled vinegar, molasses, sugar, salt, anchovies, tamarind, onions, garlic, spice flavorings and other ingredients.
According to legend, a British nobleman returned from travels in India and sought to recreate a sauce he enjoyed abroad. He hired two chemists, John Lea and William Perrins, to develop the recipe. After trying some experimental batches, the chemists allowed their sauce to age in a barrel. They found it was awful initially but mellowed into a delicious flavor after aging.
The chemists went on to establish the company Lea & Perrins to commercially produce what became known as Worcestershire sauce. It grew popular in England as a steak sauce and eventually made its way to the United States and worldwide.
Today, many brands of Worcestershire sauce are on the market. But Lea & Perrins remains one of the top selling versions. The exact blend of ingredients varies by brand, but traditional Worcestershire sauce contains no wheat, barley, rye or other gluten sources.
Primary Ingredients in Worcestershire Sauce
Anchovies – Worcestershire sauce traditionally contains anchovies, small fish that provide savoriness. Anchovies are packed in salt so they can be preserved. This saltiness adds flavor.
Vinegar – The sauce includes distilled white vinegar, which gives it tanginess and helps balance the strong anchovy taste. Malt vinegar may be used but introduces gluten.
Molasses – Sweetness comes from molasses, or molasses mixed with sugar. Molasses is a gluten-free byproduct of sugar refining.
Tamarind – This tropical fruit contributes both sweet and sour flavors to Worcestershire sauce. It is naturally gluten-free.
Onions and garlic – Onions and garlic provide aromatic vegetable flavors. They contain FODMAPs, so Worcestershire sauce is not low-FODMAP.
Spice extracts – The exact blend varies but traditional Worcestershire sauces use flavors like cinnamon, mustard seed, chili pepper, coriander, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger and more.
Soy sauce – Some versions add a splash of soy sauce, which is gluten-free though high in soy. Tamari can also be used.
Caramel coloring – Gives the brownish-red color. Can be made from wheat but is most often gluten-free.
Water – Helps thin out the sauce.
As you can see, none of the primary ingredients in Worcestershire sauce are inherently gluten-containing. Two that deserve a closer look are malt vinegar and caramel coloring.
Malt Vinegar in Worcestershire Sauce
Some brands use non-distilled malt vinegar rather than distilled vinegar in their Worcestershire sauce recipe. Malt vinegars are made by fermenting barley malt or other gluten-containing grains.
So malt vinegar contributes gluten to the final product. However, Lea & Perrins and many other brands stick with distilled white vinegar only, avoiding this issue.
If you see malt vinegar on the ingredients list, the product contains gluten. White distilled vinegar is always gluten-free.
Caramel Coloring in Worcestershire Sauce
Caramel coloring gives Worcestershire sauce its signature reddish-brown hue. The coloring can be derived from wheat, but is most often made from corn.
Manufacturers may or may not disclose the original source. If made from wheat, the product would contain trace amounts of gluten.
For those extremely sensitive, uncertainty around caramel coloring is something to be aware of in Worcestershire and other foods. But most brands use gluten-free caramel coloring.
Other Potential Sources of Gluten
Beyond malt vinegar and caramel coloring, Worcestershire sauce is at risk for gluten from added flavorings, thickeners and other ingredients:
– Wheat flour – Sometimes used as a thickening agent
– Barley malt – May be added as a sweetener
– Soy sauce – Can be made with wheat but often gluten-free
– Hydrolyzed vegetable/wheat protein – Contains wheat gluten
– Malt extract – Derived from barley malt
– Dextrin – Can come from wheat or corn
Thankfully, these ingredients aren’t part of traditional Worcestershire sauce. But some brands include them, so it’s important to read labels carefully.
Traditional Worcestershire Sauce Brands Without Gluten
Worcestershire brands recognize the growing demand for gluten-free foods. Today there are many high-quality traditional Worcestershire sauces made without gluten sources:
|Lea & Perrins Original Worcestershire Sauce
|Heinz Premium Worcestershire Sauce
|French’s Worcestershire Sauce
|Annie’s Naturals Organic Worcestershire Sauce
|Wizard’s Organic Vegan Worcestershire Sauce
Lea & Perrins, Heinz, French’s and Annie’s Naturals all indicate their Worcestershire sauces are gluten-free right on the label, giving peace of mind.
Wizard’s Organic brand is also certified gluten-free. It uses tamari instead of soy sauce and no caramel coloring. Their version is vegan.
Gluten-Free Substitutes for Worcestershire Sauce
If you find your favorite brand of Worcestershire sauce contains gluten, or just want to avoid the uncertainty around ingredients, there are some good substitutes to recreate the flavor:
– Soy sauce or tamari + vinegar + molasses – Combine 3 parts soy sauce or tamari with 2 parts vinegar and 1 part molasses. Add a pinch each of onion powder, garlic powder, ginger and black pepper.
– A1 Steak Sauce – Most varieties of this savory steak sauce are gluten-free.
– Fish sauce – Has the umami punch of anchovies without wheat. Combine with vinegar, molasses and spices.
– Balsamic vinegar – Similar tang and sweetness to Worcestershire, just in one ingredient.
– Tamarind paste + soy sauce + lime – Mix together pureed tamarind, soy sauce or tamari, lime juice and chopped garlic and ginger.
With homemade blends or store-bought sauces, you can safely approximate the complex flavor of Worcestershire sauce without the uncertainty around gluten.
Is Kikkoman Worcestershire Gluten-Free?
Kikkoman is one of the most popular soy sauce brands. But their Worcestershire sauce contains wheat and barley and is not gluten-free. Here are the ingredients:
– Distilled white and malt vinegars
– Molasses and corn syrup
– Onions, garlic and spices
– Natural flavor
– Caramel coloring
Both wheat and barley (in bold) make Kikkoman Worcestershire sauce off limits for a gluten-free diet. The malt vinegar used also adds trace levels of gluten.
Those with celiac disease or wheat allergy should avoid this product and opt for a certified gluten-free brand instead. People with a wheat or gluten sensitivity can try Kikkoman Worcestershire sauce in small amounts to see if it is tolerated.
Is Worcestershire Sauce Gluten-Free at Restaurants?
At restaurants, the gluten-free status of Worcestershire sauce can be unclear. Wait staff likely won’t know the brand used or all the ingredients. So take some precautions:
– Ask about the brand – Some restaurants use gluten-free varieties.
– Request dishes without it – Steaks, marinades and dressings can often be made without Worcestershire sauce.
– Avoid questionable menu items – Skip foods with sauces and marinades likely to contain Worcestershire of uncertain gluten status.
– Check ingredient lists online – Many restaurants post ingredient information on their websites these days.
– Bring your own – Carry a small bottle of gluten-free Worcestershire sauce if dining out often.
With a mix of communication, caution and preparedness, you can enjoy delicious cuisine while dining out gluten-free.
Should I Avoid Worcestershire Sauce on a Gluten-Free Diet?
Worcestershire sauce itself does not naturally contain gluten. But uncertainty around ingredients makes it tricky for the gluten intolerant.
Truthfully, Worcestershire sauce is usually not an essential condiment or ingredient. Dishes using it can often be modified or replaced.
Those with celiac disease or wheat allergy should only use brands with certified gluten-free labels. People with gluten sensitivities can try known gluten-free brands or ones made without wheat, barley and malt vinegar in small amounts.
But if in doubt or especially sensitive, skipping Worcestershire sauce or relying on homemade substitutes is the safest bet. Many delicious meals can be enjoyed without it.
The Bottom Line
Traditional Worcestershire sauce recipes do not include any gluten-containing ingredients. However, some modern commercial brands introduce potential sources of gluten like wheat flour, malt vinegar or hydrolyzed wheat protein.
Carefully reading ingredient labels allows you to identify gluten-free Worcestershire sauce options, such as those from Lea & Perrins, Heinz, French’s and Annie’s. Or you can recreate the tangy umami flavor through homemade blends of fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, tamarind and spices.
While it takes a bit more diligence, those who need to follow a gluten-free diet can find ways to safely enjoy Worcestershire sauce. Just opt for verified gluten-free versions or rely on substitutions to avoid uncertainty while still satisfying cravings for that classic savory flavor.