- Hollis Johnson
Colonel Sanders’ nephew recently revealed what he claims is the secret recipe for KFC chicken. Although KFC has since denied that this is the exact formula, we assume that it’s close. The nephew, Joe Ledington, did have it in a handwritten note taken from the colonel’s second wife’s will, and he claims that his job as a boy was to mix the spice blend in a tub.
The famous blend of 11 herbs and spices includes only one real surprise: a ton of white pepper.
“The main ingredient is white pepper,” Ledington told the Chicago Tribune. “I call that the secret ingredient. Nobody knew what white pepper was. Nobody knew how to use it” in the 1950s.
Food scientist Dr. Steven Witherly, author of “Why Humans Like Junk Food,” was taken aback when he saw the recipe.
“Wow, that much white pepper?” he says was his first reaction.
But he also thinks that it makes a lot of sense.
“I’ve had a lot of chefs tell me that the most underappreciated of all spices is white pepper because it has subtle but very strong effects on the sensory system,” Witherly said.
White pepper is the husked form of the more common black pepper. Cooks Illustrated says that it has a more floral, earthy flavor and greater complexity, while black pepper is more aromatic with more spicy heat. Interestingly, Google searches for white pepper have doubled over the past decade.
White pepper also has some powerful physiological effects thanks to a compound called piperine. Piperine has been shown to do a wide variety of things, including activating taste receptors to make salt taste saltier and sugar taste sweeter, activating a special receptor in your brain that triggers the release of feel-good endorphins, increasing intestinal water flow and production of digestive enzymes, and possibly even helping to counteract the effects of high-fat diets.
The upshot, according to Witherly, is that it could make KFC more addicting.
“One of the theories I’ve put forth is that if you eat something that does something to you and it’s beneficial, your brain figures it out … it wants you to do it again,” Witherly says.
KFC’s alleged secret recipe is as follows:
- 2 cups white flour plus 2/3 tbsp. salt1/2 tbsp. thyme1/2 tbsp. basil1/3 tbsp. oregano1 tbsp. celery salt1 tbsp. black pepper1 tbsp. dried mustard4 tbsp. paprika2 tbsp. garlic salt1 tbsp. ground ginger3 tbsp. white pepper
As great as white pepper may be, of course, other factors may be more important in making it delicious. Witherly concludes in “Why Humans Like Junk Food” that the key to KFC’s deliciousness is the combination of flavor-active compounds flour, salt, pepper, and MSG with a pressure-cooking technique that retains the chicken’s moistness and juiciness.
And that’s why 12 million people eat KFC every day.