After decades upon decades of being one of the most beloved American secrets, the 11 herbs and spices that a certain Kentucky colonel kept under wraps since the Great Depression might be out in the open, thanks to a recent fortuitous visit with Harland David Sanders’ ancestors, by the Chicago newspaper of record — the Chicago Tribune.

Now, before we get to the big reveal, it must be noted that Harland Sanders wasn’t a colonel in the United States Army — that’s just an honorary title given to him by the state of Kentucky (Johnny Depp and Hunter S. Thompson are colonels as well) — but he was a soldier who served.

Colonel Sanders enlisted in 1906, served in Cuba for a little while, then was honorably discharged in 1907. At this time he moved to Alabama, worked in the rail yard with an uncle and then bounced around in the industry until 1916, when he took up an insurance job, got fired, and moved to Louisville, Kentucky (to work for another insurance agency).

Almost 15 years later, in 1930, Sanders was offered a service station by Shell Oil in North Corbin, Kentucky. In addition to selling gasoline, he decided to hawk some country ham and steaks and … fried chicken.


In 1952, the military vet franchised “Kentucky Fried Chicken” for the very first time, and the rest, AS THEY SAY, is history.

Okay but enough of the back story. Let’s get into the meat of this post again, which is the breakthrough that occurred just the other day, thanks to the serendipitous flipping of a photo album by Sanders’ blood relative (the colonel himself passed away in 1980).

This from New York Magazine:

The [Chicago Tribune] writer met the colonel’s nephew, Joe Ledington, and the two got to paging through a Sanders-family scrapbook. Ledington pulled out the last will and testament of Sanders’s second wife, and on the back was literally a handwritten recipe for a fried-chicken spice blend. Asked if this was for real, Ledington casually noted, “That is the original 11 herbs and spices that were supposed to be so secretive.” Sooo, cat’s out of the bag?

From the source:

In case you can’t read the above chicken scratch, here’s what the 11 vaunted ingredients in the mixture are verbatim:

11 spices — mix with 2 cups white fl

  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

According to the Chicago periodical, the recipe is on the money, as they recreated the blend in their own kitchen after hauling in the scoop. They also added MSG, which the chain has disclosed publicly is something they use as well.

No word from the brand itself on whether or not the scrapbook note is legit. But there’s a fat chance they’ll remain silent. As New York Magazine pointed out in their piece on the news, the company has taken people to court over this in the past.

This time though? Might be hard to defend.

Chicken tonight, anyone?