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Worcestershire Sauce vs Garum | English Classic and Ancient Fish Sauce

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Sauces have been used to flavor food for millennia.

Most grocery stores stock Worcestershire sauce because this type of savory condiment goes with most foods.

However, someone searching for garum at the store probably won’t find it because it’s very uncommon.

So, what’s the difference between Worcestershire sauce and garum and why is the latter so hard to get a hold of?

Worcestershire Sauce vs Garum | English Classic and Ancient Fish Sauce

Garum is a pure fish sauce invented thousands of years ago, made from fermented fish intestines whereas Worcestershire sauce is a complex blend of ingredients such as vinegar, molasses, anchovies, tamarind, onion and garlic. Worcestershire has a savory, umami taste whereas garum has a more pungent and fishy flavor.

Garum can be substituted with all types of Asian fish sauce but this article explains why garum is unique, how to use it and what to do with it.

You’ll also find out how Worcestershire sauce and garum compare and why they’re fundamentally different even though they both contain fermented fish.

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What is Worcestershire sauce?

Worcestershire sauce is a condiment created in the 19th century by two chemists, John Wheeley Lea and William Perrins.

It is usually made with vinegar, anchovies, molasses, tamarind, garlic, salt and shallots.

Worcestershire sauce has a runny thin consistency and brown color.

This dark brown sauce adds a tangy and savory flavor to many dishes, and is most commonly used as an ingredient in beef steak marinade, pot roast, Bloody Marys or Caesar salads.

It can also be used to flavor soups, stews and gravies, as well as many different types of sauces.

What is garum?

Garum is a fermented fish sauce that originated back in antiquity.

It was a popular condiment for food in ancient Greece, Phoenicia, Rome, Carthage, and other Mediterranean cultures.

It is not a very popular ingredient these days and is rarely used in modern cuisine.

Garum was a popular type of fish sauce because it was extremely flavorful and added a strong fishy and savory aroma to dishes.

This sauce has an amber or light brown color and the consistency is similar to a thin syrup.

In the past, making garum was dirty business. The process was messy and it smelled smelled so bad, it was done on the outskirts of cities.

Garum is made by crushing the intestines of fish like tuna, eel, anchovies, and mackerel and letting them ferment in salty brine until they become thick and liquidy so it can be used like a sauce.

It doesn’t contain any other ingredients so it’s a pure, concentrated fish sauce.

Can you still get garum?

Even though it was very popular, garum was eventually taken out of the kitchens of the Mediterranean and other places where the Roman Empire used to rule.

There are different kinds of this fish sauce today, like Colatura di Alici in Italy, but the original recipe and way of making it are long gone.

Garum is still available, but it’s hard to find and very expensive. Some online shops sell artisanal versions of garum or you can buy Colatura di Alici (anchovy sauce), which is the closest thing to the original garum.

Spanish Matiz Flor de Garum is another version of garum it’s pretty much the same as a the ancient garum from the Grecians.

What’s the difference between garum and Worcestershire sauce?

The major difference between Worcestershire sauce and garum is that Worcestershire sauce is a complex blend of ingredients like anchovies, tamarind, vinegar, molasses and spices and is used worldwide to add a savory flavor to dishes.

In contrast, garum is an ancient fish sauce made of only fermented fish intestines, salt, and brine.

It is very rarely used in cooking these days and only a few small brands still manufacture this product.

Ingredients & flavors

When it comes to flavor, the difference between garum and Worcestershire sauce is clear.

Garum doesn’t contain herbs, spices and other additives so it has a stronger and sharper flavor than Worcestershire sauce.

Garum has a more intense fishy flavor, while Worcestershire sauce has a sweeter, milder taste which is more savory.

Garum and Worcestershire sauce may seem similar, but there are key differences that make them unique.

Worcestershire sauce is a condiment made from anchovies, molasses, tamarind, onion and garlic.

It has an acidic flavor with hints of sweetness due to the molasses and tamarind. It’s often used to add flavor to dishes such as steak, fish and soup.

Garum is a fermented fish sauce made from the intestines of anchovies, eel, tuna or mackerel that was used in ancient cuisine.

It has a bold fishy taste with hints of umami and acidity due to the fermentation process.

Garum was commonly used to enhance the flavor of dishes such as stews, sauces and grilled meats.

Texture & appearance

Both Worcestershire sauce and garum are liquid condiments, but they have different textures. Garum is thinner with a syrup-like consistency while Worcestershire sauce is thicker in texture.

Garum has an amber or light brown color, whereas Worcestershire sauce has a more reddish hue.

Uses

Worcestershire sauce is widely used in modern cooking, especially in dishes such as Caesar salad dressing and steak marinade.

Garum, however, is rarely used today. It has been replaced by Worcestershire sauce and other more widely available condiments like fish sauce.

Garum has a very potent and strong flavor so only a few drop should be used at a time so as not to overwhelm the dish.

On the other hand, Worcestershire sauce has a much milder flavor and so a larger quantity can be used. Some marinades require as much as 1/2 cup of Worcestershire sauce per cup.

Here are the most common uses for Worcestershire sauce:

  • BBQ meat marinade
  • Salad dressing
  • Soups
  • Stews
  • Dipping sauce
  • Caesar salad
  • Caesar cocktail
  • Bloody Mary cocktail
  • Stir-fry
  • Rice dishes

Here are the most common uses for garum:

It was used to add flavor to pork, fish, and even wine. It was also mixed with things like pepper, vinegar, and oil to make new sauces. It was also a source of protein because it was made from fish.

But here’s how to use it:

  • Stews
  • Marinades
  • Condiment for fish and seafood dishes
  • Sauces
  • Condiment for pork goulash and pot roast
  • Flavoring for wine

When to use Worcestershire sauce vs garum

Worcestershire sauce can be used pre-cooking for meat marinades for your BBQ. It can also be used during cooking in the pot in dishes like stews, or at the end of cooking in sauces.

It is also used after cooking to add umami flavors to meats or as dipping sauce for fried foods, sushi, or even in a Caesar salad dressing.

In comparison, garum is best used as an enhancer and flavoring agent for dishes such as stews, sauces, grilled meats or fish/seafood dishes.

It should be added sparingly to avoid overwhelming the flavor.

Garum should be used sparingly, either pre-cooking or during the cooking process, as it has such a strong flavor. If you add it after the food is cooked the fishy flavor is very strong!

Origin

Worcestershire sauce was invented in the early 19th century.

It is named after the city of Worcester in England and it is made from a combination of ingredients such as anchovies, molasses, tamarind and garlic.

It was first invented as a fish sauce, but it has since evolved into the complex condiment that is used today.

Chemists John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins created the recipe after being inspired by a sauce from Bengal.

Garum, on the other hand, was first invented by the Ancient Greeks and Romans.

It was made from fermented fish intestines and salt which was then left in barrels for weeks to ferment.

It has been used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine since as far back as 3,000 B.C.

The purpose of garum was to add flavor to food and make it more palatable.

Nutrition

You’re probably wondering, what’s healthier: Worcestershire sauce or garum?

Both condiments are high in sodium. A tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce contains around 200 milligrams of sodium, while a teaspoon of garum contains up to 1,200 milligrams of sodium.

So it’s best to stick with smaller amounts when using either one.

Garum contains much more sodium than Worcestershire sauce.

The modern garum recipes use about 15% salt in their recipes whereas the original recipe from the Romans used 50% which was way too much.

But since the fish is fermented, it is a good source of protein and a source of healthy Omega 3 fatty acids.

Worcestershire Sauce, on the other hand, contains no protein and is low in fat and calories. It does contain vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and Vitamin B12.

In conclusion, when it comes to Worcestershire sauce vs garum, it’s best to use them both in moderation but Worcestershire is healthier.

Is garum the same as Worcestershire sauce?

No, garum is a simple fermented fish sauce. It usually contains fish innards, salt, and brine whereas Worcestershire contains many other ingredients which also have strong flavors like vinegar and tamarind.

Garum has a very fishy taste and is usually used to enhance other flavors in foods. It is rarely used in modern cuisine due to its strong fishy taste.

Worcestershire sauce, on the other hand, is a complex condiment that has multiple uses due to its milder aroma.

Takeaway

Worcestershire sauce and garum are two very different condiments that can be used to add flavor to a variety of dishes.

Worcestershire sauce is more widely used due to its milder flavor and versatility, while garum should be used sparingly as its fishy taste is overwhelmingly powerful.

While both sauces have fermented fish as a base ingredient, Worcestershire sauce also contains other ingredients that make it a more complex condiment.

Nutritionally, Worcestershire sauce is the healthier choice as it contains fewer calories and has less salt.

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Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.