Worcestershire sauce is a staple that every chef should have in his or her refrigerator. It’s also one of those staples that you go through very slowly – so slowly, in fact, that you might not even remember the last time you bought the Worcestershire sauce that’s sitting in the door of your refrigerator.
You might have purchased it to make the chili dog sauce for your summer barbeque two months ago – or you may have purchased it for a Christmas gathering three years ago. Either way, you might be asking yourself – does Worcestershire sauce go bad?
If you’re like most people, you probably have no clue how to answer this question. In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know.
What is Worcestershire Sauce?
Worcestershire sauce is one of those condiments that just about everyone has in their kitchens, but very few people know exactly what it is.
First manufactured by the company Lea & Perrins in England (the town of Worcestershire, in fact!), Worcestershire sauce is made with several different ingredients that are fermented on their own, blended together, and then fermented again.
Most Worcestershire sauces contain ingredients like vinegar, onions, garlic, molasses, salt, and sugar. Some also contain soy sauce, tamarind paste, cured anchovies, mustard seed, pepper, cloves, coriander, or even citrus peel.
That’s why Worcestershire has such a complex taste – there’s a lot going on in this tiny little bottle!
Despite being ubiquitously difficult to pronounce, Worcestershire sauce is a staple in all kinds of cuisine. It can not only be used in broths and stocks, but it can also help quickly build flavors when braising cuts of meat. It has a versatile flour that is sweet, acidic, and umami. It is an even fantastic alternative to soy sauce or fish sauce, in a pinch (or if you’re just sick of them).
How to Store Worcestershire Sauce
Ideally, Worcestershire sauce should be stored in the same way you would store other sauces that are high in sodium and meant to give your food a salty kick (like soy sauce).
Generally, these sauces can be kept in any cool, dry place – as long as they have not been opened. The exception to this is when you have opened the bottle.
Before opening a bottle of Worcestershire sauce, you can just stash it somewhere like a pantry or a tucked-away cabinet. It should be out of the direct path of sunlight and drafts. It needs to be sealed tightly, though, so make sure you don’t break the seal.
Now, once you’ve opened the bottle of Worcestershire sauce, the answer to the question of how to store it changes a bit. Usually, as long as it is tightly sealed, it is perfectly fine to keep it stored in the cupboard. Most people stash their Worcestershire sauce in the refrigerator, though.
Is this really necessary? Probably not. However, it does help the sauce retain a higher quality (regarding both texture and flavor) than if you kept it at room temperature. If you’re planning on using it within a year, though, you probably won’t notice a major difference in either flavor or texture either way.
Long story short, if you use up Worcestershire sauce slowly (as most of us do) stash it in the refrigerator. If you know that you will use it within six months or a year, keep it in the pantry to save refrigerator space.
What is the Shelf Life of Worcestershire Sauce?
The average bottle of Worcestershire sauce will last for quite some time. In fact, most manufacturers of Worcestershire sauce don’t even include expiration dates on their bottles but instead include best-by dates. Often, that period is somewhere between 18 months and three years.
In most cases, your bottle of Worcestershire sauce will remain fresh and safe to use long after that date. The longer you keep the bottle sealed and unused, the fresher it will stay. The best-by date is merely an estimate.
Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing whether the best by date on your bottle of Worcestershire sauce is accurate or not. It degrades very slowly, so while a ten-year bottle might taste a little funky, a two-year bottle is probably fine.
How Long Does Worcestershire Sauce Last Once Opened?
Worcestershire sauce has a lengthy shelf life both opened and unopened, although once it’s opened, of course, it won’t last quite as long.
While unopened Worcestershire sauce is usually good for at least five years, Worcestershire sauce that has been opened should be used within a year if you intend to keep it inside your pantry. If you’re stashing it in the refrigerator, it will usually last around three years.
Of course, this depends on the brand and the specific ingredients in the Worcestershire sauce. It also depends on your tastes. You might not notice a decline in peak freshness, but a more discerning chef might.
How to Tell if Worcestershire Sauce Has Spoiled
Worcestershire sauce doesn’t go bad easily, as most of its ingredients serve as natural preservatives on their own. It’s very difficult – if not impossible – for bacteria or mold to flourish in this kind of environment.
That’s not to say that it can’t happen, though. There are a few easy ways to tell if your Worcestershire sauce has gone bad.
Give it the quick sniff test to see whether it has a scent that is sour or unpleasant in any way. Pour a bit out into a bowl. Is there any discoloration to the sauce, or worse, any mold? If so, you’ll want to toss it. There’s no way you’re going to be able to sift and sort around the mold.
Another sign that Worcestershire sauce has gone past its prime is if gas has built up inside the bottle. If you’re using a plastic bottle of Worcestershire sauce, you’ll notice that the container seems puffed up and it will likely expand and bulge.
It may make a loud popping noise when you open it, as it will be releasing pressure that is the result of built-up gas. There could even be some leaks coming out of the container.
Built-up gas is often a sign of bacterial contamination, and if you detect gas formation in either a plastic or glass bottle of Worcestershire sauce, it’s time to toss it. Worcestershire sauce is not an expensive commodity – don’t risk making yourself sick.
However, it should be noted that Worcestershire sauce rarely goes bad and it is extremely uncommon to notice any of the signs mentioned above.
Some people assume that their Worcestershire sauce has gone bad when the internal components and ingredients start to separate. You might notice a layer of sediment at the very bottom of the container.
That’s not a sign of spoilage, but simply a sign that your bottle of Worcestershire sauce has not been used in a while. Simply give the bottle a good shake and it should mix everything back together. Again, Worcestershire sauce degrades very slowly in both quality (flavor and texture) and food safety, so even if you’ve had a bottle for a long time, it’s probably safe to eat.
Worcestershire sauce does not go bad if you fail to refrigerate it. A quick look at the basic ingredients in Worcestershire sauce will tell you why. This pantry staple includes things like blackstrap molasses, soy sauce, and vinegar – all of which store well at room temperature.
It can – but it’s going to take a very long time. Worcestershire sauce that has been continuously refrigerated usually lasts for at least three years. Often, it will stay flavorful and fresh long after that period and is usually still safe to eat even after three years has gone by.
Not all Worcestershire contains fish. In fact, there are vegan and vegetarian options available if the thought of pouring fish flavors in your vegetarian soup stock happens to turn your stomach. However, the main ingredient that produces the savory, umami taste in Worcestershire sauce is anchovies.
Typically, fermented anchovies are included in Worcestershire sauce for an extra dose of flavor. These anchovies are typically fermented for at least 18 months before being added to the Worcestershire sauce and bottled.
Like many condiments, Worcestershire sauce usually has a best before or sell-by date instead of an expiration date. Therefore, in most cases, there isn’t such a thing as “expired” Worcestershire sauce.
That said, it’s usually safe to eat “expired” Worcestershire sauce past the date listed on the bottle. You can often safely use it several years after the date has passed, but again, make sure you give it a quick sniff check for posterity.
Probably nothing. You may have some minor digestive upsets if you eat spoiled Worcestershire sauce, but it’s so rare for it to even go bad that this is very unlikely to happen. Nobody has ever died (that we know of!) from eating bad Worcestershire Sauce.
The very worst thing that could happen is that you might not enjoy the food very much. One of the primary ingredients in Worcestershire sauce is malt vinegar, which is a natural preservative. It can get more potent in taste over time.
Plus, Worcestershire sauce contains sugar and other ingredients that can ferment on their own over a long period of time. Your Worcheshire sauce may develop a small alcohol content – but don’t worry, it’s probably not going to get you drunk, even if it is extremely old!
*Photo by neillangan/depositphotos