Food's Five Biggest Secret Recipes, and How They Are Kept Safe
By Elena Ferretti
Published April 05, 2011
This February, National Public Radio’s “This American Life” program claimed to have uncovered Coca-Cola’s legendary original formula, publishing it online for the world to see. The recipe is one of the most closely-guarded in the food and drink industry, and has been kept secret for one hundred and twenty-five years.
Unfortunately for NPR, the recipe wasn’t the real thing - or so the beverage behemoth says.
NPR isn’t the first to “reveal” Coke’s secret and it won’t be the last. According to a joint-study released by the antivirus software specialist McAfee and technology services provider, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), hackers are shifting away from stealing personal information and towards targeting trade secrets and marketing plans. Intellectual property will be the nourishment that feeds the new underground economy.
With that in mind, here’s how vaults, safes, seeming transparency, and a talking dog make America’s top five secret recipes impervious to cyber attacks.
KFC Fried Chicken
Bucking the paperless trend, Colonel Harlan Sanders’ Original Recipe eleven herbs and spices are inscribed in pencil on a yellowed piece of paper inside a Louisville, Kentucky safe, says KFC spokesman Rick Maynard. The safe lies inside a state-of-the-art vault that is surrounded by motion detectors, cameras and guards. Ninjas, too? Maynard won’t say.
Each supplier produces a different recipe component. A computer at a separate supplier blends the ingredients so no single supplier knows the whole recipe. And even if someone got the recipe, says Maynard, without the right proportions, cooking process time and temperature, “it’ll be fried chicken but it won’t be KFC.”
McDonald’s French Fries
The secret to McDonald’s fries, one of the few foods that please both toddlers and four-star chefs, is that there is no secret. So says Michael Butkus, McDonald’s Senior Director of Strategic Sourcing. It’s about the potato seed (high-starch russets), the farms, farmers, irrigation, handling and processing and the global standardization of that process designed to ensure that its fries everywhere taste the same. McDonald’s restaurants finish them “only with good, old-fashioned salt in a specific grind,” and serve them hot. That’s it, he says.
Not quite. Like KFC, Butkus won’t comment on frying temperature, duration, oil type, or freezing. McDonald’s par-fries their potatoes then freezes them, tossing them frozen into the fryer. Belgians, who invented French Fries, have always fried-twice but they don’t freeze-and-fry. Asked whether freezing is part of the secret, Butkus waxes poetic about potato-growing practices. You do the math.
North Carolina pharmacist Caleb Bradham (b. 1867) is forever linked to Hollywood legend, Joan “No Wire Hangars” Crawford simply by a tonic he invented in 1898. Brad’s Drink was later renamed Pepsi-Cola and Crawford ended up on its board after the death of her husband, Pepsi CEO and Chairman, Alfred Steele. Pharmacists of Bradham’s generation often concocted drinks with purported health benefits to sell at their soda fountains. Drinks began to be bottled in the 1890s.
Queries made by this writer about the recipe’s whereabouts were met with “we don’t talk about that” and “I can’t tell you anything,” by Emily-Post-Meets-The-French-Resistance spokesperson, Andrea Foote. “The best way to keep a secret” she says good-naturedly, “is to keep it to yourself.” PepsiCo says only that they “feel fortunate” to have developed proprietary recipes that consumers love. That’s like saying that people who win hundred-million dollar lotteries “feel fortunate” to have won.