Colonel Sanders(Photo: CJ File)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Chicago Tribune is reporting that it may have uncovered Colonel Harland Sanders' secret original recipe for his famed fried chicken, the linchpin of KFC's global franchise of some 18,000 restaurants in 115 countries.
In a story posted on the Tribune's website Friday, a freelance reporter for the newspaper said he stumbled upon the recipe at the home of Joe Ledington, a nephew of the colonel by marriage, while paging through a scrapbook once owned by Sanders' late wife, Claudia Sanders.
But in an email to The Courier-Journal, a KFC spokesman said the recipe isn't theirs. "Many people have made these claims over the years and no one has been accurate — this one isn't either," the email said. "Though, we imagine that might make some tasty fried chicken, too."
Ledington, in an interview with The Courier-Journal, said the scrapbook was passed down through various family members since Claudia Sanders died in 1997. Ledington said the book, which contains photos of the Sanderses' wedding, original franchise agreements and original photos of overseas restaurant openings, has been in his possession about four years.
The recipe was handwritten on a piece of paper tucked into an envelope that contained a copy of Claudia Sanders' will, he said.
Ledington said he grew up mixing the herbs and spices at the Sanders Court and Cafe, the restaurant and motel where Sanders pioneered his now-famous recipe, working there from the time he was 8 or 9 years old for a quarter a day and access to the motel's swimming pool.
"I was more excited about the pool than the money," said Ledington, a 67-year-old retired school teacher who lives in the home where he was reared, about 300 yards from Sanders' first restaurant.
KFC protects the recipe in a vault and has sued to keep its recipe secret in the past.
According to the Tribune, Yum!, the parent company of KFC, replied with an email that said, "In the 1940s, Colonel Sanders developed the original recipe chicken to be sold at his gas station diner. At the time, the recipe was written above the door so anyone could have read it. But today, we go to great lengths to protect such a sacred blend of herbs and spices. In fact, the recipe ranks among America's most valuable trade secrets."
So, does Ledington think the recipe is the real McCoy?
"Yeah, I do," he said. "I don't want to get in an argument with Yum! Brands about it but ... I'm pretty sure that it's pretty close to the original."
“In the 1940s, Colonel Sanders developed the original recipe chicken to be sold at his gas station diner. At the time, the recipe was written above the door so anyone could have read it. But today, we go to great lengths to protect such a sacred blend of herbs and spices. In fact, the recipe ranks among America's most valuable trade secrets.”Yum!, parent company of KFC
According to the Tribune, the recipe calls for two cups of flour, 2/3 tablespoons of salt, 1/2 tablespoon of thyme, 1/2 tablespoon of basil, 1/3 tablespoon of oregano, 1 tablespoon of celery salt, 1 tablespoon of black pepper, 1 tablespoon of dried mustard, 4 tablespoons of paprika, 2 tablespoons of garlic salt, 1 tablespoon of ground ginger and 3 tablespoons of white pepper.
Former Gov. John Y. Brown Jr., who bought Kentucky Fried Chicken from Sanders in 1964 for $2 million before selling it in 1971, said he doesn't know the recipe but that he has doubts that Ledington's recipe is the real thing.
Brown said it was Sanders who began the tradition of having two different companies make parts of the spice blend so that no one had the full recipe.
"I wouldn’t pay attention to it," Brown said of Ledington's claim. "There have been claims for the last 50 years. People along the way have all claimed they have the recipe. I discount that. It makes a good story."
The Tribune, however, whipped up a couple of batches, added a little Accent, a brand of MSG, to boost the flavor and, voila, it said the bird it cooked was indistinguishable from what it purchased at a KFC restaurant.
Ledington said he's not surprised. Now he just hopes Yum! doesn't take offense.
In fact, he said, he didn't give it a second thought before sharing the recipe with the Tribune reporter.
"I really didn't think about it. I didn't use my head and I certainly don't want to get sued by Yum! Brands," he said. "But I didn't think much about it. I grew up with it."
Contributing: Jere Downs, The Courier-Journal