Food

Did Colonel Sanders' nephew accidentally spill the secret to KFC's recipe?

KFC has famously kept the 11 herbs and spices used to coat its "fingerlickin' good" fried chicken very close to the chest.

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A bucket of KFC Extra Crispy fried chicken is displayed October 30, 2006 in San Rafael, California.

But one reporter at the Chicago Tribune believes he has cracked the crispy code after interviewing the Colonel's nephew and former employee.

The mystery of the recipe has arguably been its biggest marketing ploy. In 2008, as a publicity stunt, the company hired a Brinks guard to transport the Colonel's handwritten recipe to a new, more secure location.

And KFC's newly revamped site features a Colonel Sanders character announcing he's at last ready to reveal the recipe to the world — when, of course, he malfunctions and an "out of order" sign pops up onto the screen.

There have been many failed attempts to steal the spiced secret. KFC sued the last person who claimed to have found it — so how is it possible that this reporter uncovered it so effortlessly?

Well, he met the Colonel’s nephew, Joe Ledington, and while they were flipping through a Sanders-family scrapbook, Ledington pulled out the last will and testament of Sanders’s second wife, and on the back was a handwritten recipe for a fried-chicken spice blend — with 11 herbs and spices. Seriously.

When asked if these were the 11 herbs and spices, Ledington casually said, “That is the original 11 herbs and spices that were supposed to be so secretive."

And, yeah, that's it. No fireworks exploding or Colonel Sanders ghosts emerging. Pretty anti-climactic, right?

Here's the full recipe as shown by Ledington:

11 spices — Mix with 2 cups white fl

  1. 2/3 Ts salt
  2. 1/2 Ts thyme
  3. 1/2 Ts basil
  4. 1/3 Ts oregano
  5. 1 Ts celery salt
  6. 1 Ts black pepper
  7. 1 Ts dried mustard
  8. 4 Ts paprika
  9. 2 Ts garlic salt
  10. 1 Ts ground ginger
  11. 3 Ts white pepper

The secret ingredient, Ledington says, is the white pepper. Back in the 1950s when the recipe was developed, “no one knew how to use white pepper,” he told the Tribune.

Getty Images
A bucket of KFC Extra Crispy fried chicken is displayed October 30, 2006 in San Rafael, California.

Once Ledington realized the damage he may have caused, however, he toned down his conviction, telling the Tribune the recipe “could be” legit, but he can’t say “for sure,” adding that this was the first time he’d shown it to a reporter.

To no one's surprise, KFC wouldn't confirm or deny the recipe's validity.

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So the Tribune test kitchen conducted a side-by-side comparison, finding that the two were "virtually indistinguishable" — but only once they added MSG, which a rep for the chain confirms is a current ingredient.

Can we ever be certain that this is, in fact, the Colonel's original recipe (and probably his most prized possession)? Probably not. As one of the business world’s most closely guarded trade secrets, KFC will probably prevent us from ever knowing. But feel free to whip out your pressure cooker (yes, apparently that's what's used in the original recipe), try the recipe out, and judge for yourself.

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