Colonel Harland Sanders’ recipe of 11 herbs and spices, the secret formula of the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant empire, is kept inside a 770lb safe, encased in 2ft of concrete and guarded by motion detectors and cameras at KFC’s headquarters in Louisville.
Only a few trusted employees are said to be privy to the secret. When a couple living in the colonel’s old house claimed to have turned up a copy in the basement, KFC sued and the diary was seized by court officials until the company felt able to declare that it was not, in fact, their secret recipe.
All of these precautions may have been for naught. A list of 11 herbs and spices, with instructions to mix them with two cups of white flour, has been found in an envelope containing the will of the colonel’s widow, Claudia.
It was spotted by a journalist from the Chicago Tribune who was leafing through an album belonging to the colonel’s nephew, Joe Ledington, a retired teacher from Corbin in Kentucky.
“Aunt Claudia left it to her own sister, Nell,” Mr Ledington said. “Aunt Nell left it to Aunt Thelma. Thelma left it to my sister. When my sister died I got it.”
The album contained photographs and mementos, including the money clip given to Sanders on his 89th birthday, the year before his death in 1980. “She had put the little string tie in there,” Mr Ledington said. Her will was in the back. The recipe was in the envelope, at the back of her will.”
Mr Ledington did not think much of this: when he was growing up the recipe was above the door of the petrol station where Sanders made his name. He thinks a short-order cook named Miss Peace — he can’t recall her first name — may have concocted the recipe.
As a child, Mr Ledington helped mix the ingredients in a tub on the roof of the colonel’s garage. “He would make the chicken mix, I would mix it with the flour,” he said. After finding the recipe, he used it to make fried chicken for 500 children at a local school, he said. “I can’t say for 100 per cent that that’s the recipe, but it sure looks like it.”
Jay Jones, the reporter, was in Corbin to write a travel piece and had been directed to Mr Ledington by the local tourist office. The Tribune tested the recipe, reporting that the result tasted like a KFC meal.
KFC at first dodged the question of whether the recipe was genuine. When asked by the Tribune, KFC noted that the blend had only become a closely guarded secret in recent decades. The company has since rejected the recipe. “Many people have made these claims over the years and no one has been accurate — this one isn’t either,” a spokesman said yesterday.
Mr Ledington said he had not been contacted by KFC. He thinks the key to his uncle’s recipe lay in his use of white pepper. “Back in the fifties and sixties nobody knew much about white pepper,” he said. The handwritten recipe in the family album calls for three tablespoons of the stuff, and large quantities of garlic and paprika.
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
Mix with 2 cups of white flour