The Untold Truth Of A.1. Sauce

A.1. Sauce, also known as A.1. Steak Sauce, also known as just "steak sauce," because, much like Kleenex, Xerox, and Band-Aid, the A.1. brand has become synonymous with steak sauce. Sure, there's a peppercorn sauce, a zesty chimichurri, or a red wine sauce, but if you ask for a bottle of steak sauce, you're getting A.1., whether you like it or not.

Suppose, much like other iconic brands, A.1. gave its classic square bottles a makeover, maybe tried to jazz up the chunky font or the slogan of "original sauce," well, that just wouldn't seem quite right. It's steak sauce, the absolute antithesis of hipster foodie culture. It looks like a time capsule, it tastes like a time capsule, and it is just fine as it is, thank you very much. But why is it called something that sounds like a copy tray size? And was it really, as the label claims, "established in 1862"? Let's get to know our friend, the ever-reliable A.1., a bit better, shall we?

A.1. Sauce was invented by Henderson William Brand

A.1. Sauce was first invented by Henderson William Brand, a personal chef for King George the IV from 1824 to 1831. Supposedly, King George tasted the sauce and voiced his approval by pronouncing it "A1." Henderson William Brand was born in Durham, a city in north east England, and was the son of Thomas Brand, an innkeeper and brewer. While no one knows for sure if a young William Henderson Brand worked in his father's kitchen, it seems likely, because at the tender age of 12 he was working in the kitchen of the Prince Regent as an "undercook." The Prince Regent, known as a gastronome with a taste for haute cuisine, became King George IV in 1820, and Henderson William Brand went from undercook to "yeomen of the mouth," a position akin to that of a sous chef, shortly after.

Brand would later publish an updated version of Simpson's Cookery, a popular cookbook at the time, and set up a shop in London in 1835. His first two products were Essence of Chicken and Essence of Beef. After declaring bankruptcy, rebranding, and trading as "H.W. Brand," Brand was appointed the cook and manager of cuisine at the 1862 International Exhibition in London, where he debuted "Brand's International Sauce," where it was ranked, unsurprisingly, A1.

A.1. Sauce's ingredients helped to hide the taste of old beef

For a sauce that has existed in some form or another since 1862, A.1. has a pretty unsurprising list of ingredients, with a few exceptions. Notable among them is raisin paste, H.W. Brand's stroke of genius that has been used in other sauces and prepared foods ever since. The antioxidants in raisins helped slow the decay of beef in the days before refrigeration, but also helped mask the taste of decaying beef. Apparently, even kings weren't too regal to not eat some funky steak in the 1860's.

Distilled vinegar also has a utility beyond taste: it's the world's oldest meat tenderizer. In its earliest inception, A.1. Sauce used the more expensive malt vinegar. Older versions of the sauce also used orange marmalade instead of orange puree. The spices and herbs are a trade secret, of course. It's safe to say that in H.W. Brand's day there was no corn syrup, caramel color, or xantham gum. If the idea of eating a slightly less processed, shelf-stabilized version of A.1. appeals to you, try this copy-cat recipe.

A.1. Sauce's parent company produces a popular Asian health supplement

Kraft foods owns the license for Nabisco, which includes the license for the A.1. brand in North America, and the parent company for Brand & Co, Cerebos, produces A1 in the U.K. for export to European and Asian markets. The steak sauce, however, is not Brand & Co's most popular product.

Essence of Chicken, a health supplement made from chicken, is widely popular in Asia and is often touted as a "brain tonic" that can help with studying and cognitive development. Brand first developed the recipe for the ailing King George IV. While working in the royal kitchen, Brand created a chicken-based health tonic for the king, which he then went on to sell to the public. The monarchy issued a royal warrant for the product 1897, essentially endorsing Essence of Chicken, and the product initially was exported to Asia in the 1920s. 

Essence of Chicken has been the subject of a few clinical trials and studies to measure any possible effects on cognitive function and has actually been found to provide measurable benefits. As for A.1. well, its only benefit seems to be the flavor. 

A.1. Sauce dropped "steak" from its name in 2014

Kraft Foods Group dropped the "steak" from the iconic steak sauce brand's name in 2014 and brought it back to the TV ad airwaves after a five-year absence to announce the split. Why was A.1. steak sauce no longer just for steak? Among animal proteins consumed at home, beef has been on the decline, while chicken is on the rise. As of 2014, 65 percent of A.1. sauce was slathered on steak and not on another protein source. Clearly a change was needed if A.1 was going to buck the declining popularity of beef. Promoting A.1. as a sauce that can go with, as the ad campaign said, "almost everything," was a way of helping to solidify the brand's long-term survival in a world of changing consumer habits and tastes.

The name change, though, was actually a shift back to A.1.'s original branding and name. A.1. only added steak to its name in the 1960's in a pivotal shift to beef, but it was first marketed as a high-quality, all-purpose "saucy sauce different from any other, appreciated on Welsh rarebits, broiled lobster and English mutton chops."

A.1. Sauce is declining in popularity

But could A.1.'s branding change from "A.1. Steak Sauce" to "A.1. Sauce" be less about hoping pescatarians will pour a little A.1. on their fish tacos and more about the fact that steak sauce overall is losing popularity? For one thing, meat quality has significantly improved since the 1960's peak of steak sauce's popularity, and the need to mask inferior quality beef with sauce has declined. Certified Angus Beef was established in 1978, and consumers' tastes have changed as ranchers have met higher and higher standards. The days of King George masking the taste of slightly rancid beef with sauce are long gone.

Another factor behind the decline of A.1. Sauce is that, on the whole, chefs don't like it, and diners respect chefs. Especially at a high-end restaurant, where the chef composes the entire dish — including any sort of the sauce. To put a big glob of A.1. on a dry-aged rib-eye would, at minimum, raise a few eyebrows in the kitchen.

Although A.1. Sauce was invented in the U.K., it's no longer sold there

Even though A.1. Sauce has the most incredibly British origin story, it is not widely available in the U.K. and instead, only manufactured there for export. A.1. was also known as "A1" without the two periods that are used on the American label, and it was phased out of British supermarkets in the 1970s. Although A.1. is perhaps the only American version of a thick, brown steak sauce, the "brown sauce" market in the U.K. is quite competitive with options such as HP, Daddie's, Heinz Ideal, and Fletcher's Tiger Sauce all vying for the attention of shoppers. HP Sauce — once manufactured in Britain but now made in Holland – accounts for 71 percent of the U.K.'s brown sauce market. A.1./A1 just couldn't keep up with the competition.

You can sometimes find imported American A.1. sauce at larger supermarkets in Britain. And as for the question, are brown sauce and steak sauce the same thing? Nobody has a specific answer, but brown sauce seems to popular with breakfast, whereas not too many folks are slathering steak sauce on toast.

Empty bottles of A.1. Sauce kept mysteriously appearing at a library in Ohio

In 2017, in the town of Avon Lake, Ohio, an unidentified person with a mysterious motive kept leaving empty bottles of A.1. stashed in different areas of the public library. Employees found the first bottle in the newspaper section, and after that, up to 40 more appeared hidden behind books and plants in the library. All were clean, empty, and had the labels removed. The library's surveillance video didn't reveal the mystery bottle-leaver.

The library employees theorized that the bottles had been used to smuggle in alcohol, but that did not hold up under a smell test. The bottles only smelled of tangy A.1. Sauce, and not of alcohol. The library staff ruled out a teenage culprit, due to the fact that the bottles seemed to be left in the first half of the day. While it might not make for the most exciting story on Unsolved Mysteries, the case of mysterious A.1. bottles of the Avon Lake Public Library remains open.

Nicki Minaj committed the faux pas of using A.1. Sauce at a classy steakhouse

In 2013, rapper Nicki Minaj ate at Boa, a high-end steakhouse in West Hollywood, California. Boa's prices for steak start at $40 for a small filet, and putting steak sauce on an expensive steak can be seen as an insult to the chef. Nicki Minaj obviously marches to the beat of her own drum, because she had someone from her entourage provide her with a bottle of A.1. as soon as she sat down (via TMZ). When a rep for A.1. Sauce saw TMZ's paparazzi footage, they told the celebrity outlet, "We're so glad to hear that Nicki Minaj loves our sauce just as much as we love her and her music. To make sure she's never 'sauceless' again, we sent Nicki some of our A.1. Original Steak Sauce."

Nicki Minaj is not the only celebrity who loves A.1., even if some foodies might consider steak sauce a little gauche. Singer John Legend revealed to Postmates that his famous foodie spouse, Chrissy Teigen, loves the stuff. Apparently, Teigen accidentally placed a Postmates order for 25 bottles of A.1. instead of five. Of Teigen's love for A.1., Legend said, "Chrissy insists on having A1 for her steak no matter how blasphemous that is to any steak people."

A.1. Sauce made meat-scented candles for Father's Day

Home fragrances usually fall into the floral or herbal family: pumpkin spice, vanilla, jasmine, etc. In 2018, however, A.1. Sauce decided to usher in a brave new world in home fragrances by introducing a line of meat-scented candles for Father's Day. The candles were made so that dear old dad doesn't have to "do the whole cooking thing to get the hearty smell." The candles came in three meaty flavors, or rather, scents: Original Meat, Backyard BBQ, and Classic Hamburger. As gimmicky as they were, the candles proved to be pretty popular and sold out in one week – so far, they haven't been restocked. (Sorry, dads who missed out.) 

A.1. is not the first or only food brand to venture into the candle-making business either. KFC launched a limited edition gravy-scented candle in 2019, as well as a very limited edition run of SPF 30 sunscreen that smelled like fried chicken in 2016. To support Autism Speaks, White Castle released an Original Slider-scented candle in 2014, and McDonald's debuted its burger-scented candle in February 2020. Taco Bell seemed to toy with the idea back in 2011, but nothing seemed to come of it.