KFC's Top Secret Recipe - Could this be real?

Could this the real deal? The 11 herbs and spices that makes up the Kentucky Fried Chicken's secret recipe? Chicago Tribune recently did a story on Colonel Sanders and his Kentucky Fried Chicken, This is one of those stories. A mix of memory, mystery and a pinch of "what if?" It involves one of the best-kept culinary secrets of all time, and the man who's arguably the original celebrity chef.

The real Colonel was a bespectacled, white-haired guy named Harland David Sanders who spawned a fast-food empire. For decades, "The Colonel" was synonymous with snow-colored suits, black string ties and "finger lickin' good" chicken coated in a secret blend of 11 herbs and spices.

Attempts to unearth the Colonel's Original Recipe, or replicate it, have been made too many times to count. For KFC Corp., keeping the elusive mix of 11 herbs and spices under wraps has been paramount — not to mention a great marketing tool.

The recipe is, without question, a secret as juicy as well-fried fowl — and has been for the better part of a century.

That's until recently when the Tribune reporter met up with Joe Ledington in Corbin, Kentucky, where the Colonel first served his chicken more than 75 years ago to hungry motorists at the service station he ran. The 67-year-old retired teacher has spent his entire life in Appalachia. He still lives in the house in which he grew up, just north of the city limits of Corbin, a town of about 7,300. He shared with the reporter about "Old Man Sanders", his uncle, and flipping through the scrapbook he kept drew up a lot of interesting stuff, based on what is reported. But the aim here is the recipe!

The handwritten list of 11 herbs and spices, jotted down on the back of a document Joe Ledington described as the will for Claudia Sanders, the Colonel's second wife. Could this be what I think it is? The 11 herbs and spices?

"That is the original 11 herbs and spices that were supposed to be so secretive," said Ledington with conviction. "I mixed them over the top of the garage for years," he recalls, noting that the job came with the fringe benefit of getting to use the swimming pool at Sanders' motel-restaurant complex — a nice perk during the hot summer months.

The main ingredients for the coating, according to this recipe, are paprika (4 tablespoons), white pepper (3 tablespoons) and garlic salt (2 tablespoons). But Ledington says one ingredient is the real star.

"The main ingredient is white pepper," he says. "I call that the secret ingredient. Nobody (in the 1950s) knew what white pepper was. Nobody knew how to use it."

The Colonel's nephew isn't the first person to claim he may hold the secret to KFC's success.

On the internet, cooks have posted copycat recipes they say replicate the original. Only a few of those contain the white pepper Ledington claims is key.

A KFC spokesperson responded about the article via email:

"In the 1940's, Colonel Sanders developed the original recipe chicken to be sold at his gas station diner. At the time, the recipe was written above the door so anyone could have read it. But today, we go to great lengths to protect such a sacred blend of herbs and spices. In fact, the recipe ranks among America's most valuable trade secrets."

Anyway, now that we have it, why not give it a try and let me know if you are able to replicate the KFC flavor to the chicken you eat?

11 spices — mix with 2 cups white flour

  • 2/3 tablespoon salt 
  • 1/2 tablespoon thyme 
  • 1/2 tablespoon basil 
  • 1/3 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon celery salt 
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper 
  • 1 tablespoon dried mustard 
  • 4 tablespoons paprika 
  • 2 tablespoons garlic salt 
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger 
  • 3 tablespoons white pepper
Time to go make some fried chicken!

Michael Yip

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