What Are KFC's 11 Herbs and Spices?

This is the secret seasoning recipe to making your fried chicken finger lickin' good!

bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and spices
Photo: Allrecipes

KFC has been serving its world-famous fried chicken since 1930 — and using the same 11 herbs and spices since 1939 when Colonel Sanders perfected his recipe. Everyone knows that the Colonel's herb and spice mix is top secret, but that won't stop us from trying to find out what's in it.

Kentucky Fried Chicken claims that the secret recipe is only known by a few people and is protected by intense security measures. The original handwritten recipe is securely kept inside a vault at KFC's headquarters in Louisville. Additionally, KFC employs various companies to contribute different ingredients to the recipe — so not even they could know the full recipe.

Even KFC's nutritional guide doesn't give anything away — the fried chicken ingredients simply include "Colonel's Secret Original Recipe Seasoning." This all amounts to either a very clever marketing ploy or an impressive feat.

However, in 2016 we came as close as we've ever been to knowing the 11 herbs and spices used at KFC when a reporter was shown a handwritten recipe from a Sanders family scrapbook.

What Are Kentucky Fried Chicken's 11 Herbs and Spices?

According to the recipe, which is called 11 Spices, the top-secret ingredients (and measurements) include:

  • 2/3 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil
  • 1/3 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried mustard
  • 4 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3 teaspoons white pepper

The spices are mixed with 2 cups of flour to create the iconic KFC breading.

Is This the Real Herbs and Spices Recipe?

The recipe was given to a Chicago Tribune reporter by Joe Ledington, Colonel Sanders' nephew. He claimed that the recipe contains the original 11 herbs and spices he helped Colonel Sanders blend as a boy for the restaurants. However, after sharing the recipe, Ledington back peddled a bit and said he wasn't absolutely sure if it was the same recipe that is so closely guarded at KFC headquarters today. But he did note the prevalence of white pepper.

Of course, KFC denies that this recipe is authentic — however, would they admit it if it was real? The herbs and spices mixture is one of the best-kept fast food secrets, and KFC isn't keen on letting the secret slip anytime soon.

While we may never know if Ledington's recipe is correct, that won't stop us from trying to recreate KFC's fried chicken at home. Whether you try this recipe, or another copycat recipe (like user M Karen's KFC-Style Spice for Chicken recipe), there are two things you can do to get Colonel Sanders-approved chicken: heavily coat the pieces in the spice mixture and use a pressure fryer.

How KFC Chicken Is Made

Even though the spice blend is a guarded mystery, we do know a bit about how the chicken is made. Each piece of chicken is dipped in water for seven seconds, dried for seven seconds, and then rolled in the mixture seven times before frying (sevens must have been lucky for the Colonel). To replicate this method, coat the chicken in dredging flour with seasoning, then shake off the excess, and repeat the process six more times.

It's also no secret that the Colonel pressure fried his chicken to get that crispy skin. Though we know that not everyone owns a pressure fryer, so the pressure cooker or deep fryer is the next best thing.

Whether or not this is the true top secret recipe or not, it will still produce some finger lickin' good fried chicken.

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