A Family Scrapbook May Have Unearthed KFC's Secret Recipe

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Like the recipe for Coca-Cola, the 11 herbs and spices that make up KFC’s distinctive chicken has become part of the company’s lore. Numerous people have claimed to unearth these secret formulas over the years, but there’s never been any official confirmation.

In the case of Joe Ledington, the latest man to have pulled back the curtain on food trade secrets, there’s one compelling fact that adds to his credibility: He’s the nephew of Colonel Harland Sanders.

In a recent travelogue article for the Chicago Tribune, author Jay Jones visited Corbin, Kentucky, home of the Harland Sanders Café and Museum. Sanders started his chicken empire there, deep-frying birds to sell out of a service station.

According to Jones, an interview with Ledington at the Museum led to Jones being invited to look through a family scrapbook that originally belonged to his Aunt Claudia, Sanders’ second wife. As Ledington flipped through the pages, Jones caught sight of a handwritten note marked “11 spices.” Below it:

2/3 Ts [tablespoon] Salt ½ Ts Thyme ½ Ts Basil 1/3 Ts Origino [sic] 1 Ts Celery Salt 1 Ts Black Pepper 1 Ts Dried Mustard 4 Ts Paprika 2 Ts Garlic Salt 1 Ts Ground Ginger 3 Ts White Pepper

Mixed with two cups of white flour, this was the secret recipe that KFC had kept such a tight lid on for decades, Ledington insisted. When a Tribune fact-checker called to confirm, Ledington downgraded his assurance a bit, saying he couldn’t be positive—all he knows for sure is that it isn’t the Colonel’s handwriting.

When Jones solicited comment from KFC, the company noted that Sanders had been in the habit of posting the recipe in his restaurant for anyone to see. Despite that visibility, KFC insists no one who has claimed to have the recipe has ever been accurate.

So can you save yourself a trip and make authentic KFC at home? You might: The Tribune had a go at it with promising results. But Sanders also pioneered a pressure-cooking method—where the deep fryer is covered with a lid—that might be harder to replicate. Taste testers also found that the frying oil was too hot in early attempts, resulting in a bland bird. The test kitchen had to play with the amount of coating and the addition of MSG—which KFC admits it uses in its Original Recipe—to get a similar taste. Even if the recipe is accurate, it’s probably best to leave it to the experts.

[h/t Chicago Tribune]

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