A relative of Colonel Sanders unwittingly revealed—and possibly confirmed—KFC’s secret recipe

Full of mystery.
Full of mystery.
Image: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
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One of the most closely-guarded food secrets in the world may have accidentally slipped to the public.

Executives at Kentucky Fried Chicken insist the company’s signature 11-spice “Original Recipe” is still safely a secret, but there’s reason to believe that may not be the case.

The situation unfolded after a reporter with the Chicago Tribune’s travel section was dispatched to Corbin, Kentucky, to report and write a story about the Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum. While in Corbin, the reporter met Joe Leddington, the nephew of the famous KFC founder, Colonel Harland Sanders.

During the interview, Leddington handed the reporter an overstuffed photo album, filled with pictures of relatives, newspaper clippings, and other documents, including the last will and testament of Claudia Sanders, Col. Sanders’ wife. That’s when the reporter noticed something written on the back of the legal document:

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.

He asked Leddington if the recipe was the real deal. Leddington confirmed it was the original recipe, and that as a child he helped his uncle blend it. And so the reporter did what reporters do: He jotted down the recipe, then wrote and published the story.

According to that story, Leddington had stated with conviction that, “That is the original 11 herbs and spices that were supposed to be so secretive.” However, he apparently dialed back his comments in a subsequent phone interview with a Tribune editor. Leddington reportedly told the editor: ”It could be; I don’t know for sure,” and that ”I’ve only had that album for four years, since my sister passed away.”

For years, KFC has made a big deal about how secret the “Original Recipe” is, noting that it’s kept “in a digital safe that weighs more than 770 pounds and is encased in two feet of concrete with a 24-hour video and motion-detection surveillance system.” For extra security, the company says the spice blend is shipped from different locations in the US before final blending.

When the reporter asked KFC about the matter, a spokesperson responded: “Lots of people through the years have claimed to discover or figure out the secret recipe, but no one’s ever been right.” In this case, the evidence is pretty compelling.