BY MELISSA CAMPANA
In order to find out how truly American (and possibly how old) you are, there is a word-association test you must respond to correctly. If we say: “A.1.,” you say…?
If you answered, “It’s how steak is done,” you’re in the club. That tagline ended every commercial for A.1. Sauce in the early 1990s, but good ol’ A.1. Sauce has been around much longer than that. And, funnily enough, the sauce doesn’t have American origins at all. Henderson William Brand — a Brit from Northeast England and a chef under King George IV in the early 19th century — debuted this marvelous sauce at the International Exhibition in London in 1862 (via Let’s Look Again). Patrons tasted “Brand’s International Sauce,” which was composed of vinegar, fruits, and spices, and declared it “A1!” (As in, that expression people used before “awesome.”) The name stuck, and by the time the sauce traversed the Atlantic Ocean to be trademarked and sold in the U.S., the words “steak” and “sauce” were added onto the end for good measure. Well, probably because Americans love steak.
Things were going gangbusters for A.1. Steak Sauce in the U.S. until quite recently, when declining beef sales made the team behind A.1. rethink that whole “steak” thing. According to PR Newswire, A.1. officially decided to drop the word “steak” from its name in 2014. This announcement was accompanied by a comedic Facebook campaign in which the sauce went from going steady with beef to “friending” a bunch of other proteins and developing an “it’s complicated” relationship status with steak. After all, when A.1. was born, PR Newswire points out, it was marketed as a “saucy sauce different from any other, appreciated on Welsh rarebits, broiled lobster, and English mutton chops.”
Dropping the “steak” was a return to A.1.’s illustrious origins, sure, but it was also just smart marketing. After all, the movement towards plant-based meals is certainly here to stay, and knowing the sauce you’re purchasing has potential for all foods is more inclusive of our vegetarian friends. Plus, if you could buy one delicious “saucy sauce” to put on chicken, fish, vegetables, and steak, wouldn’t you rather throw that one bottle in the basket than four different ones?
Food Reference even reveals that A.1. Sauce can be used for bug bites, to polish brass and copper, and for removing scratches from wood furniture. But, like the word “steak,” you won’t find those uses listed on the label.