Worcestershire sauce is everyone’s favorite ingredient that no one knows how to spell. But, even if you can’t spell it, chances are that you reach for a bottle just about any time you’re making something savory and want to enhance that umami flavor.
Despite its popularity, Worcestershire sauce isn’t the only way to give your food an umami kick, and there are even similarly salty options available if sodium isn’t why you’re looking for a substitute.
First, let’s talk about some of the reasons why you might want to substitute Worcestershire sauce in your cooking, and then we’ll go over the best substitutions and when to use them.
Why You Might Need To Substitute Worcestershire Sauce
The most common reason people reach for a substitute for Worcestershire sauce is that they ran out of the sauce, or don’t have as much as they need for a recipe.
The thing is, there are a lot of other reasons you might want to replace Worcestershire sauce with an alternative.
You Need A Low-Sodium Diet
There are a lot of health complications that can mean you need less sodium than normal in your diet. Worcestershire sauce isn't a low-sodium diet-friendly food, so it's a good idea to look for low-sodium alternatives to this common ingredient.
You Are Vegetarian, Or Cooking For Someone Who Is
Did you know that one of the key ingredients in Worcestershire sauce is aged, fermented, anchovies? It’s actually a critical ingredient and where a lot of the umami flavor comes from. Anchovies and anchovy paste are actually common ingredients in a lot of sauces, including some Green Goddess dressings, and most Caesar salad dressings.
But, if you’re cooking for someone who is vegetarian, those anchovies are a big problem. You’ll need to substitute for a vegetarian or vegan alternative.
Remember, when it comes to vegetarian food preferences, it isn't just about what the person would prefer. Feeding vegetarian meat can actually have serious consequences for their digestion and health because most vegetarians stop producing the enzymes needed to digest meat proteins.
Want to make your own vegan Worcestershire sauce? Here’s a recipe for exactly that!
You Don’t Like It
Another common reason to substitute Worcestershire sauce in recipes is if you don’t like the flavor it brings to the table. Worcestershire sauce can be pretty subtle when you add it to a meal, but it does significantly change the flavor of the finished dish.
If you aren’t a fan of this flavor, it’s better to trade out the Worcestershire sauce for a substitute.
The Best Worcestershire Sauce Substitutes
Remember to think about what kind of food you’re cooking when you’re choosing a good substitute, and what kind of favors you want in the finished dish. Worcestershire sauce is a flavor enhancer, which brings out salt, umami, and malt flavors. It’s also got some vinegar and layers of flavor that do a lot of different things depending on what you’re making.
So, to make a good substitute, you should look for an ingredient that captures the most important flavors you want to highlight in your dish in the same way Worcestershire sauce would highlight those flavors.
You can also combine these substitutes to create a Worcestershire sauce substitute that’s entirely unique to you!
Balsamic vinegar is one of the ingredients in Worcestershire sauce, so it’s a good substitute that brings a lot of the same flavors. It’s great for bringing out the umami of a dish, and also helps brighten the flavors with some added sweetness and acidity, without adding too much sodium.
Soy Sauce + Sugar
Soy sauce is another flavor enhancer, which has a strong salty umami flavor from fermented soybeans. However, it tends to be a little too bitter to really replace Worcestershire sauce. It’s a good idea to use a little less than you would normally add, and to mix the soy sauce with sugar before adding.
Don't just add a little extra sugar. Sugar interacts with the soy sauce and changes its flavor significantly, so be sure to mix the sugar in before adding the soy sauce to your cooking.
Coconut Aminos + Sugar
Coconut aminos are often used as a lower-sodium replacement for soy sauce, but they actually have a flavor very similar to Worcestershire sauce and A1 sauce. It's a little stronger than either of those and definitely more bitter.
But, use a little less and add some sugar, and you’ll get a pretty solid Worcestershire sauce substitute.
Worcestershire sauce is all about bringing out the umami, adding a smoky tang, and highlighting all the different flavors and complexity in your cooking.
What else does all of that too?
BBQ sauce is a surprisingly effective substitute for Worcestershire sauce, though you should use a very small amount of the sauce when you’re using it this way. About double the amount of Worcestershire sauce you would use is plenty. You might need to add a little water if you’re using a particularly thick BBQ sauce.
Speaking of BBQ sauce, this substitution works great in our Turkey Meatloaf!
When it comes to enhancing umami without adding too much of an identifiable taste of its own, few ingredients are better than anchovy paste. Shrimp paste also works, but more people are likely to be allergic to shellfish, and shrimp paste has a stronger, more identifiable flavor.
Add slightly less anchovy paste than you would add Worcestershire sauce to your recipe. Stir it in and give it a couple of minutes to absorb the flavor, then taste and adjust as needed.
Remember that most anchovy paste is going to add sodium, so you probably won’t need to add any more salt to your recipe to make up for the missing Worcestershire sauce.
If you’re just looking to increase the flavor and complexity of a dish, but don’t necessarily need salt or umami, hot sauce can be a good option. Your favorite hot sauce isn’t going to enhance the same flavors as Worcestershire sauce, but it will add flavor.
Just remember not to add too much. You don’t want to add a ton of heat to a dish that isn’t supposed to be spicy or unbalance the mix of spices and heat in an already spicy meal.
Fish sauce is a common ingredient in Thai cuisine, but it’s also a good replacement for Worcestershire sauce. Remember that Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies along with vinegar and other flavor enhancers?
Well, think of fish sauce as a concentrated version of that anchovy flavor. However, it is also much saltier than Worcestershire sauce, so it's important to reduce how much you use and add it before adding salt so you can adjust accordingly.
If you don’t like the saltiness of fish sauce, oyster sauce serves a similar purpose. However, it’s even more concentrated, so you don’t need as much. The saltiness is less predominant in flavor, but that doesn’t mean that this is a good low-sodium replacement.
However, oyster sauce is also a bit more subtle when it’s fully mixed, and it’s a better flavor match than Worcestershire sauce in most Asian cooking.
Ketchup Or Tomato Paste
This might seem like a surprising option, but tomato paste and ketchup are both good replacements because they do a lot to enhance umami. That's because tomatoes have a different kind of amino acid, or protein than is found in most meat proteins and even some other vegetable proteins.
Combining two different kinds of amino acids enhances the umami of both, making tomato paste a quick and easy way to make cooking more savory and satisfying. Ketchup also works and has the bonus of adding sweetness and a vinegar tang to your cooking as well.
Want to play around with more umami recipes? These 26 crockpot ground turkey recipes are healthy, easy to make, and delicious!
Miso paste is another option. Like soy sauce, it's made from fermented soybeans. But it’s a significantly thicker option and offers more of a probiotic advantage for your foods. Like Worcestershire sauce, miso adds complexity, salt, and boosts the umami of your meals.
However, unlike soy sauce and some of the other options on this list, miso doesn’t immediately add an identifiable Asian flavor to your food. Used judiciously, you might not even realize there’s miso paste in your meal, just like Worcestershire sauce changes the flavor of your food but rarely tastes distinctly like itself in a finished meal.
Red wine is a slightly different option, but it can be used similarly to Worcestershire sauce. It adds umami, and can especially bring out the flavors of tomatoes, red meat, and other savory foods.
You will need more red wine than Worcestershire sauce to achieve a similar effect. You can make a red wine reduction in advance if you want to add a smaller amount of wine, or you can use the wine to deglaze your pot or pan to get a similar enhancement.
A1 Steak Sauce
A1 steak sauce is thicker and has a stronger black pepper flavor, but its other flavor notes are very similar to Worcestershire sauce. That makes it a great substitute, especially if you can add it early enough in cooking to adjust your seasoning to account for it.
Just remember that A1 sauce can also thicken your meal more than Worcestershire sauce would. Keep an eye on your food to see if you need to thin things out with a little water.
If you’re looking for salt, umami, and vinegar flavor, pickle juice is a fantastic substitute. However, it's also one of the most identifiable flavors on this list, so you either need to use it judiciously or recognize that some pickle flavor is going to come through in the finished dish.
This is also specifically talking about savory pickles like dill pickles, not the sweet kind.
Marmite or Vegemite + Water
Last but certainly not least, marmite and vegemite thinned with a little water both make a good Worcestershire sauce substitute. These pastes do have different flavors, but they bring plenty of fermented malty salty goodness to the table.
Add very small amounts mixed with water (to ensure the paste gets fully incorporated into your food) and taste test between until you get the results you want.
There you have it! Tons of different substitutes for Worcestershire sauce for every need and occasion!