Synonymous with fried chicken, KFC is a legend in the fast-food space. This American brand enjoys a cult following across the world thanks to its delicious offerings. But you would be shocked to know some of the secrets behind it. Here are 10 more untold truths of KFC!
10. Col. Sanders was not a real colonel
The founder of KFC, Harland Sanders, is the worldwide mascot of the KFC brand. His face can be found on every chicken bucket, soda cup, poster, and signage of KFC. He is widely known as Colonel Sanders and unsurprisingly, most people believe it to be true. But that’s not the truth. Harland Sanders was never a real colonel. He did serve in the U.S. army, but reportedly only in the capacity of a mule tender. He started his fried chicken restaurant in Kentucky in 1930, and after it became popular, the restaurant brought in a lot of name, fame and business for the state of Kentucky. Thus, in 1935, the Governor of Kentucky, Ruby Laffoon, decided to honor Sanders with the honorary title of ‘Colonel’. Sanders’ contribution to the state cuisine was another reason for the honor. Then, in 1950, Sanders’ friend, Governor Lawrence Wetherby, bestowed the title of ‘Kentucky Colonel’ upon him. Thus, Harland Sanders’ colonel title was just an honorary one and not a military rank. But Sanders’ took his title quite seriously. He adopted a certain look and dressing style that included growing a goatee, wearing a string tie and a white suit. He took his honorary title so seriously that he was reportedly never seen in any other attire in public.
9. KFC was not always known as KFC
Though most people assume that KFC stands for Kentucky Fried Chicken, that’s not quite true. As mentioned in part 1 of this topic, at present, KFC isn’t an acronym for anything i.e. it does not mean ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ or anything else for that matter. KFC is just KFC. When Harland Sanders decided to start his business of selling fried chicken in 1930, he did so in front of the Shell gas station near the small town of North Corbin, Kentucky that he operated at that time. He called his small business ‘Sanders Court & Café’. As the operator of the gas station, he knew that the customers he would be serving would mostly be travelers passing through the small town. He decided to serve several dishes that he had learned to cook in his childhood like fried chicken, country ham, steaks, etc. His food and business were a success, and Sanders soon expanded his operations to a larger gas station nearby. Within six years of starting the business, Sanders became well known across Kentucky and was even given the honorary title of ‘colonel’ by the state Governor. Capitalizing on this, he once again increased the operational capacity of his restaurant. He also purchased a motel across the street. By 1955, Sanders Court & Café was a well-established name on travellers’ route through Kentucky. So when an interstate route was planned that completely circumvented Corbin, Sanders sold the restaurant and adopted a franchise model to expand his business, but the name had to be changed to something else. Thus, ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ was born. Though not called ‘Sanders Court & Café’ or even ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’, a KFC can still be found at the original Corbin location in Kentucky, with the addition of a museum that gives visitors a glimpse into the history of KFC and Harland Sanders.
8. KFC’s fried chicken wasn’t always served in buckets
KFC is known for its signature fried chicken. Served in an iconic red and white striped cardboard bucket, customers have come to associate KFC with that ubiquitous bucket. But KFC’s original fried chicken was not served in buckets. In fact, the buckets were unheard of until 1957. When Harland Sanders started KFC, the original item served to customers were pieces of pressure-fried chicken that were seasoned with a secret blend of 11 spices and herbs. For almost 27 years after the opening of the restaurant, customers could only buy individual pieces of chicken. But in 1957, one of the KFC franchisees, Pete Harman, came up with the idea of serving a ‘bucket meal’ of fried chicken, which consisted of five bread rolls, a pint of gravy and 14 pieces of chicken. Since then, serving fried chicken in a bucket has become a signature concept of the KFC chain. The bucket of fried chicken is now available in various sizes. So popular is KFC’s bucket that in July 2019, KFC in Russia even launched a hat in the shape of the KFC bucket. Marketed as a fashion accessory for KFC’s ultimate fans, the hat looks exactly like the KFC bucket, including the company logo. Now that’s a fashion statement for a die-hard fan!
7. Many KFC items have MSG
KFC’s signature crunchy fried chicken is scrumptious and addictive, but not the most healthy food around. Unbeknownst to most people, KFC food is reportedly loaded with MSG (monosodium glutamate). MSG is considered a food additive that is generally added to soups, canned vegetables, processed meat and Chinese food to enhance its flavor. The USFDA (United States Food and Drug Administration) has recognized MSG as safe for human consumption, but the ingredient has remained mired in controversy for a long time. The general perception of the public about MSG is negative. Thus, the USFDA has made it mandatory for companies to disclose information about foods containing MSG. As required by law, KFC responsibly lists the nutritional information of all its food preparations on its website. They even have a separate section for food allergies and sensitivities where users can filter out all the allergens that they wish to avoid. But if you exclude all foods containing MSG from the KFC menu, you are not left with much choice; there are just sides, sodas and some kid’s meal items to choose from. What this could potentially mean is that KFC’s signature items like fried chicken buckets, sandwiches, fries and even most salads are off-limits if you want to avoid MSG.
6. The name ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ was not coined by Col. Sanders
As established earlier, KFC does not stand for Kentucky Fried Chicken anymore. But until the parent company phased it out completely from all official branding, KFC indeed was an acronym for ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken.’ And contrary to popular belief, Col. Sanders did not come up with the name. Harland Sanders was and still is the official mascot of KFC. But a painter hired by one of Sanders’ first franchisees, Pete Harman, coined the now-famous name of the brand. The painter, Don Anderson, suggested the name ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’, which Harman instantly liked. Harman envisioned that the name would help the restaurant stand out from the competition. Plus, the word ‘Kentucky’ in the name would attract customers to the restaurant with the promise of the legendary Southern hospitality. Thus, the name ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ was born. Interestingly, Harman was also the man behind the famous slogan ‘finger lickin’ good’ and the creation of the chicken bucket concept. He is said to have trademarked the slogan, which soon began to be used in all branding and promotional materials of KFC. But it was replaced with ‘So Good’ in 2011.
5. KFC and Claudia Sanders Dinner House
After selling his original restaurant in North Corbin, Kentucky, Col. Sanders and his wife, Claudia, moved to Shelbyville, Kentucky. It was from Shelbyville that Col. Sanders started his franchising business. As the franchising business became successful, Sanders was unable to cope with the rising demands of a rapidly expanding business. Thus, he sold the KFC franchise in 1964, but continued to be the face of the business and made quite an income in that capacity. But trouble soon started brewing between the new owners of KFC and the colonel. The new owners had to simplify the original recipes of the colonel so that relatively untrained staff at the various KFC outlets could easily prepare and serve the food while retaining the signature taste. The recipes also had to be customized in order to make them cost-effective. But these new strategies did not go down well with the colonel, and he was upset with the new management for altering his original recipes. So, he and his wife decided to open a new restaurant that served traditional Southern recipes which he had spent years perfecting. While reportedly still collecting his checks as the KFC mascot, Col. Sanders and his wife opened ‘The Colonel’s Lady’s Dinner House’ in Shelbyville. A newly constructed building next to their residence served as the restaurant. At this restaurant, the couple offered authentic Southern recipes, cooked the old-fashioned way, with a touch of warm hospitality. KFC and Sanders went to court over this, but they reportedly reached an agreement, which required Sanders to refrain from bad-mouthing the KFC brand and refraining from using the KFC name. Thereafter, the couple reportedly sold the restaurant and it was reopened as ‘Claudia Sanders Dinner House’. It is said to be the only place other than KFC to be allowed to serve the original fried chicken recipe developed by Col. Sanders. Claudia Sanders Dinner House is still operational and visitors can dine in or take home a cookbook of Southern recipes perfected by the couple.
4. KFC is addictive and there’s a scientific explanation to it
Much like any other fast food, KFC food is tasty and highly addictive. Most people suffer from some form of addiction when it comes to fast food, and there are many scientific reasons for it. According to one explanation, white pepper, which was recently revealed to be one of the 11 secret ingredients in the original fried chicken recipe, was the reason for the addictive taste of KFC. In 2016, Col. Sanders’ nephew, Joe Ledington, accidentally revealed that he remembered hand-mixing the ingredients for the original fried chicken recipe while assisting his uncle, in which white pepper was the main spice. Reportedly, white pepper was a relatively unknown spice at that time and it was not used in many recipes. White pepper is said to contain a component called ‘piperine’ which is said to stimulate specific taste receptors in our brain and tongue, making us feel a mouth-watering sensation. Pepper is also said to be excellent for our digestive system and in regulated quantities, it is said to have anti-depressant properties. And since pepper is a major part of the original KFC recipe, it is sure to give you an addictive feeling. Another ingredient that gives KFC food its addictive taste is the amount of salt in it. Like most other fast foods, the fried chicken at KFC contains a large portion of salt, and when the salt in the fried chicken meets the saliva in your mouth, you tend to salivate even more, giving rise to the addictive feeling. Texture too plays a big part in making anything addictive. The crispy, crunchy texture of the exterior of the fried chicken at KFC contrasts very well with the tender and juicy interior. According to some studies, as human beings, we enjoy texture in our food. And contrasting textures heighten the pleasure derived from food, making it addictive. Thus, there are many scientific explanations for a KFC addiction!
3. Healthy KFC anyone?
KFC was once called ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’. But it has now been rebranded as just KFC. The sudden name change looked fishy and many people believed that this was due to the fake news and pictures, which stated that KFC was breeding mutant chickens with extra wings and legs, instead of serving actual chicken to customers. This, many believed, was the reason for the name change so that they would not have to mention the word ‘chicken’ in their branding, and avoid legal trouble. But KFC seemed to have fooled everyone with that hoax story. According to many business publications, KFC changed the name in order to rebrand themselves as a company that offered more than just fast food. They no longer wished to have the word ‘fried’ in their name, in order to tap into a customer demographic that preferred healthier food options. It is unsure if KFC made any ‘healthy’ changes to its menu, but it did run some commercials where the phrase ‘kitchen-fresh chicken’ was used instead of ‘fried chicken.’
2. Harland Sanders had a very tough childhood
Before KFC, Harland Sanders had a very tough life, especially his childhood. He was born in rural Indiana, on a farm, and his family was very poor. He was one of many siblings and his father died when he was just five years old. His mother had to take up a job at a tomato cannery and Sanders was left behind to take care of his siblings. He soon learnt to cook, clean and looked after his siblings. His mother remarried and Sanders did not enjoy pleasant relations with his stepfather. He left home at 13 and took up odd jobs as a farmhand. Of the many jobs that he worked at before KFC, the most notable ones were those of horse carriage painter, blacksmith helper, bin cleaner on trains, ferry boat operator, insurance salesman, streetcar conductor, railroad fireman, automobile tire salesman, midwife, gas station attendant, office secretary, and he even joined the U.S. Army at some point, but not in the capacity of an officer. Subsequently, Sanders got a correspondence course law degree from LaSalle Extension University and started practising law at the justice of the peace courts in Little Rock, Arkansas. But a fisticuff with a client led to the end of his legal career within three years.
1. An abandoned KFC outlet was once used to smuggle drugs across the border
When you think of bizarre stories related to KFC, a secret 590-foot drug-smuggling tunnel to Mexico is not what you would have imagined! But that is exactly what authorities found at an abandoned KFC outlet in 2018 in San Luis, Arizona. A man called Ivan Lopez was spotted by the police while loading toolboxes into his car from an abandoned KFC outlet that he owned near the U.S.-Mexico border. When the police pulled him over and searched his car, they found about 168 kilograms of narcotics in his car. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. Upon further investigation, authorities discovered a 590 feet long and 22 feet deep tunnel that ran from the abandoned KFC in Arizona to the San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico residence of Mr. Lopez. This tunnel was used to routinely smuggle drugs from across the border. How bizarre is that!