The Colonel’s 11 herbs and spices are a secret guarded more closely than the most confidential CIA briefings (we’re talking armored trucks, secure briefcases, and an actual vault). A couple who apparently found a copy found out the hard way when KFC threatened to sue. But just a few years ago, this crucial element of the KFC recipe was inadvertently revealed by none other than, Joe Ledington, Harland Sanders’ own nephew.
Back in 2016, Mr Ledington was interviewed for an otherwise unremarkable travel article about the Harland Sanders Cafe & Museum.
“Ledington and I shake hands, and I tell him about the assignment that brought me to this part of southeast Kentucky,” recounted Jay Jones of the Chicago Tribune.
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“Before I can even open my notebook, he draws my attention to the photo album overstuffed with pictures, newspaper clippings and various family documents.”
“The album, with its nondescript cover and clear cellophane sheets, looks like the kind I used to buy for a buck at Walgreens. Ledington turns the pages, occasionally stopping to point out certain pictures, like the one of him posing with his famous uncle and others taken at the opening of a KFC in some faraway land.”
Joe Ledington eventually piqued Jay Jones’ interest with his dear Aunt Claudia’s last will and testament. Though not because of the last will and testament itself. You see, on the back of this document was a handwritten note.
“At the top of the page, in blue ink, it reads, 11 Spices — Mix With 2 Cups White Fl. That’s followed by an enumerated list of herbs and spices. Eleven herbs and spices. And the measurements for each,” wrote Jay Jones.
Ledington would confirm this was indeed the original 11 herbs and spices “with conviction” at the time, before “[dialling] back his certainty” and expressing reluctance to elaborate during a subsequent follow-up interview with the Chicago Tribune‘s editor.
During the damage control phase of this entire saga, a KFC spokesperson told The New York Times: “Many people have made these claims over the years and no one has been accurate — this one isn’t either.”
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In defiance of this claim, the Chicago Tribune test kitchen even tried the recipe firsthandcomparing what they cooked to the modern product, which yielded even greater results than expected.
“How was it? Well, really good. In fact, tasters agreed the test kitchen fried chicken was even better than the Colonel’s,” wrote Joe Gray.
“But more importantly, did it taste like the Colonel’s secret blend of herbs and spices? It came very close, yet something was still missing.”
After adding a dash of MSG to the blend, they’d effectively achieved an identical match.
Check out the 11 secret herbs and spices as outlined by the original KFC recipe below:
KFC Recipe: Original 11 Secret Herbs & Spices
“11 spices – mix with 2 cups of white flour…”
- 2/3 teaspoons of salt
- 1/2 teaspoons of thyme
- 1/2 teaspoons of basil
- 1/3 teaspoons of oregano
- 1 teaspoon of celery salt
- 1 teaspoon of black pepper
- 1 teaspoon of dried mustard
- 4 teaspoons of paprika
- 2 teaspoons of garlic salt
- 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
- 3 teaspoons of white pepper
*Add MSG for the modern recipe
“The big thing we did was mix it with flour and bag it up and sell it to restaurants,” explained Joe Ledington.
“Actually, my job was cutting up chickens and bagging up chicken mix. That’s what I did as a 10-11-12-year-old kid.”
“The main ingredient is white pepper. I call that the secret ingredient. nobody [in the 1950s] knew what white pepper was. Nobody knew how to use it.”
Identical results not guaranteed (but a finger lickin’ good time is).