Secrets to the Best Pantry: Does Worcestershire Sauce Go Bad?
Does Worcestershire sauce go bad?
The quick answer is, once opened, yes, Worcestershire sauce can go bad. On the other hand, if unopened, it can last forever and become a family heirloom. It isn’t that simple, though. Let me explain.
Don’t we all have that corner in our fridge where time seems to stop? Those dark and cold crannies where Tupperware of this or bottles of that have solidified in place since three presidents ago? Case in point is ye ol’ Worcestershire sauce or Worcester, for the pronunciation-challenged.
Unlike other food stuff that gives you obvious signs of mold or rot, Worcestershire sauce is a little more complicated, partly because of its color and partly because of the interesting odor it emits. It gets even more confusing when you look at its expiration label, or lack thereof, and find a “Best before” date instead of the usual “Use by” date.
- Genuine Worcestershire sauce like those from Lea & Ferrin is like a fine wine that doesn’t go bad but gets better with age.
- Unopened Worcestershire sauce, if stored in a cool dark place will keep indefinitely.
- Once opened, it will taste its best for 3-4 years, again, if stored in a cool dark place like your fridge or your ex’s heart. Hence the “best before” date.
- After this time, two things can happen to the sauce:
- The liquid may evaporate. Thus its flavor will become even more concentrated or
- The sauce will slowly lose its intensity
- If kept in your pantry, its flavor’s lifespan will be much shorter.
- Despite its air-tight container, if carelessly handled and exposed to air, direct sunlight or other contaminants (e.g., dirty fingers), that pricey Worcestershire sauce will go bad.
Yes, it’s complicated, and there are a lot of factors to consider. We can better understand why that’s so by looking into the background of Worcestershire sauce and how it’s made.
More than 100 years ago, a couple of chemists by the name of John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins were disappointed with the sauce they had made. They abandoned the project and kept the inedible mixture in a barrel in their basement.
After a few years, they chanced upon the barrel of sauce during a cleanup of the basement. Interestingly (but fortunately for us), they decided to taste the fermented-years-old sauce and learned that it has become, not just edible, but palatable! They released their first bottles to the public in 1832. The rest is history.
It’s interesting to note that many of the sauce’s ingredients are natural preservatives, which explains its Long shelf life. Until today, Worcestershire sauce, pronounced wus-tuh-sher, is aged for 18 months before it's bottled while its ingredients are reportedly aged for much longer. Hence, in a strict sense, the already pungent sauce can’t go bad on its own unless exposed to contaminants.
- Keep in a cool, dark place such as your pantry or your fridge
- Ideally, once opened, keep the bottle in your fridge
- Always remember to properly and tightly close the cap
- Avoid wiping the cap with a damp cloth to prevent contamination
It really is understandable for a seemingly immortal sauce to be left and forgotten in your fridge or pantry. As we’ve mentioned, the flavor or quality of the sauce may change in time but is not necessarily a sign of spoilage.
Here are some tips so you’ll be able to tell if you can still add a dash of Worcestershire to your stew:
- Always consider the best before date.
- For an unopened bottle:
If it has passed, but the bottle is still sealed, the flavor may have changed. Decide if this will be detrimental to your recipe or not.
- For an opened Bottle:
- Make sure there are no signs of molds or contamination.
- Determine if there is gas build up. If the bottle has become swollen or gives a popping sound when opened, then it is spoiled.
- If there are odors other than the usual Worcestershire sauce smell, it may have gone bad
- If none, take a taste test to see if it’s still palatable.
- Better yet, if it’s passed the best before date, err on the side of caution