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Did KFC just leak the secret recipe for Popcorn Chicken?

KFC, or Kentucky Fried Chicken, is known for its original recipe. It’s one of the most famous things about the fast food restaurant chain, to such an extent that there’s actually a Wikipedia article dedicated to the recipe.

The second most famous thing about the original recipe, of course, is that it’s secret. The theory is that only a few people know the actual ingredients involved, so that other restaurants can’t copy it and ride on the coattails of KFC’s success. To the chain’s credit, it has managed to do just that.

Well, until recently, that is. There have been reports surfacing that an insider has gotten access to the secret recipe, and actually leaked it online for the rest of the world to see. Is it real? Is it another internet hoax? Let’s do some investigating and find out.

Secret recipe history

The basis: The gas station run by Harland Sanders became well-known for its fried chicken in the 1930s. The chicken became so notable, in fact, that Sanders decided to remove the gas pumps and turn his establishment into a full-fledged restaurant. He tinkered with his recipe, adding a spice there, removing a spice here, and eventually landed upon the signature combo: 11 herbs and spices.

Deep frying the chicken was a flavor and financial breakthrough, as it allowed the taste of the recipe to pop while requiring only half the time to cook. Sanders finalized what became known as the Original Recipe” in July 1940. He claimed that the herbs and spices he used in it were nothing special, and in fact, were items that “stand on everybody’s shelf.”

Despite the seeming simplicity of the Original Recipe, great steps have been taken to protect it. By the 1950s, the company, which had rebranded as Kentucky Fried Chicken, decided to ship the spices already mixed to restaurants to maintain its secrecy. It’s become one of the most famous trade secrets in the entire catering industry.

An unlikely source

While the notion of revealing the Original Recipe sounds like a scheme fit for the Mission: Impossible team, the context under which the recipe was allegedly “found” was quite innocent. A reporter from the Chicago Tribune wanted to look into the famed recipe and sat down with Harland Sanders’s nephew, Joe Ledington, in 2016.

Ledington gave the reporter access to family scrapbooks and his recollection of family gatherings, but it was the skimming through paperwork that the reporter made his seemingly groundbreaking discovery. There it was, on the back of the last will and testament of Ledington’s aunt, Claudia: the Original Recipe. Or so it seemed, at least.

The recipe was written in blue ink and was titled “11 Spices — Mix With 2 Cups White Fl.” Ledington backed up the discovery by telling the reporter: “That is the original 11 herbs and spices that were supposed to be so secretive. 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.”

Testing the recipe

Naturally, the Chicago Tribune recreated the recipe to see if the results would be similar to an order of KFC chicken. Their findings? Nearly identical. 

For those who want to try out the recipe at home, here are the alleged ingredients:

  1. 2/3 Ts salt 
  2. 1/2 Ts thyme
  3. 1/2 Ts basil
  4. 1/3 Ts oregano
  5. 1 Ts celery salt
  6. 1 Ts black pepper
  7. 1 Ts dried mustard
  8. 4 Ts paprika
  9. 2 Ts garlic salt
  10. 1 Ts ground ginger
  11. 3 Ts white pepper

Try it at home and make the call for yourself!

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