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That Infamous Black Substance in KFC Original Recipe

2016/04/01 by ThePieMan

One of the more intriguing contentions within the KFC O.R. test & research community as championed at The Colonel’s Kitchen Forum (last posts 2015), its mirror (currently having Server problems) in the UK, Lumpy’s Larder (now defunct), and more recently at Reddit & the KFC11 Forum is the accepted wisdom that Tahitian Vanilla is an integral component and the suggested recommendation for Vial C, shown above.

Tahitian Vanilla, especially the Grand Crue Raiatea variety is a fine ingredient and it does indeed enhance the synergies between the various other spices BUT it has never sat comfortably with me that it was a, common ingredient in every Southern cook’s kitchen, that the ingredients to CHS’s most famous secret recipe could be found on, “…everybodys kitchen shelves at home.” 

Given this statement, and that the argument has already been put before, why Tahitian and not Burbon Vanilla? Moreover, if not Burbon, then why not Totonacs, the true and original source of vanilla in the world?  It’s these mental rumblings that cause me pause in accepting the status quo support for this ingredient.

Now, the argument has also been put that the selection of herbs and spices ought to be made from those that were common to the Cuisine of the, “Old South” as typically identified in books such as, “What Mrs. Fisher knows about Old Southern Cooking.” (dated 1881.)

The problem with this book, good that it is, is that its a book written by white folk, for white folk. It, and others of similar ilk, fail to encompass the extent and variety of spices that may have been used, and their common name variants. Thus other, “Black Spices” (a reference purely to the colour of the spices only!) such as Nigella SeedBlack SessameDried LimesGorakaPassilla Chilies, etc. are all but ignored because no one can put an easy finger on their use in Southern and Latin American Cuisine, even though there is a verified history of trade in spices from north Africa, the Indian Subcontinent and Asia, as mentioned in books like “The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 7: Foodways” (Page 75) and Wikipedia.

What compounds the issue further is that many of these spices are now seen as modern spices, with no Southern historically use, yet many historical ingredients and their uses have gone the way of the Dodo due to changes in Agricultural Industry Practices, changes in International Trade, and the effects and impacts of post-slavery migration.

Now, I am no expert on Southern Cuisine, so I cannot put any true force to my assertions, but I can ask questions, and seek answers, from those more experienced and knowledgeable in this area, thus encouraging discourse through open dialogue.

Recently, on the KFC11 Forum, much has been made of applying the rigors of mathematics and logic to any underlying recipe formulation.

I Applaude this! 

It makes rational sense to start from the basis that CHS with collaborator Eula Gordon would have started with a pinch of this a dash of that into a known quantity of flour, tested and tasted until they got that right, THEN asked the question, how many pieces can we bread with that? Moving from there to wholesale supply is a natural extention and the demands of manufacture and the economies of scale would also dictate necessary changes in the formulation. These changes would then be examined in a homogeneous mix to be tasted at the per chicken piece level, not in amounts, but in impact on taste.

However, Great Wall – Great Fence! Near enough is good enough! especially when it comes to turning over a penny 3 or 4 times before deciding to spend it. It is said that CHS was quite pernickerty about his formulations. However, it also appears he was never the fool with money, and would not spend extra just to, Gild the Lily  – cost, feasability, simplicity, and practicality were some of CHS’s core hallmarks.

Another area of investigation Not Looked Into is the impact on the spice trade due to growing demands by KFC spice manufacturers for good quality raw materials. This brings us back to the core of my dis-ease with “Tahitian” Vanilla as an ingredient (so sayeth The Pieman.)

Show me the uptick in trade for this comodity against the background of increased sales in KFC and franchise expansion, and you might just win me over. 

So, if not Vanilla then what? The three ingredients from above that stand out the most for me are:

  • Dried Limes (DIY Method over at Charlie Eats, top one, mate!)
  • Nigella Seed, and
  • Pasilla Chillies

Why these three?

Nigella Seeds: also known as Fennel Flower, Black Cumin, Roman Coriander, and  Black Carraway, has been described as tasting like onions, black pepper and oregano. It is a common enough pepper used in North African and continental indian dishses, and is particularly paired with poultry. Knowledge of this spice would have transported with slaves and possibly made its way into Southern Cooking… I have no specific verification for this and am still looking for evidence of its use or trade into the US and Latin America. Certainly it might be masked by common names like those listed here, or perhaps under another trade name.

Dried Limes: also know as black limes are small limes, like Key Limes cooked in brine and then air dried until black. They are commonly used in noth African stews and chutneys. Knowledge of how to make them would have travelled with African Slaves and been applied to Key Limes. It is quite possible that this would be considered so common as to be almost without need, to be mentioned. Again, I have no hard evidence of their usage in Southern Cuisine or their ready availability as a household staple.

Pasilla Chillies: are a Mexican Black Chilli. Others have posited that Red Pepper or Ancho Chilli (a dried chilli) is an ingredient common enough to be known to CHS as an every day staple. So I posit the qusetion if this, then why not Pasillas? I know nothing more about them, but consider them to be local enough to be on the table for consideration.

With all of this it comes back to, What was the real flavour profile of CHS’s Original Recipe 11 Herbs and Spices Mix? Those with the experience are now passing on, the forums are grinding to a halt, are closed to new membership or have been shut down. Those that are still in the search, the new guard, are going it solo, or have no memory, recollection, experience of, or connection with the Original Recipe that has been the source of much of the efforts described in the above mentioned forums.

At 50 years old, I hardly even remember the KFC of the 70’s – I didn’t like it then, it was grey, salty and goopy, and merely tollerate what we have today. So why am I in the Search?

Simply for the fun of it, the mental discipline, and the application of clear, logical thought to the problem at hand… and the idea that one day, I may find a recipe that I truly like that I can pass on to my kids, so that they can genuinely claim to be the first! to state they have truly discovered the Original Recipe, with no help from anyone, anywhere… did it all on their own. 🤪🤪🤪

This search requires an eye on ingredients, and eye on tradition, an eye on history – both recent and distant; and, an eye on commerce. That’s a lot of eyes…

It is not enough for some Copycat Replicator Wannabe to jump up and say, “Here it is!” “I’ve found it, The Original Recipe!” “I AM THE ONE! (the only one)” … “Just gimme da prize!”

Fuck that shit! 

Show me the evidence of the claim, show me the research, show me the truth of it all, and not some goddammed, shuckster histrionics, and flim flamery.

Get that shit out of my face!

Its an insult to the dedicated, concerted, & consdered work that so many people have so far done and becomes increasing irrelevant as time ticks on.

I am known in the forums above as, “The Pieman,” this commentary here is my personal view.

If you don’t like it just remember…

Who’s Cookin’ This Chook?

That’s all from the Bait Layer today,

Get that int’ ya! 

(reposted from the Bait layer Blog)


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