Human existence is full of ancient, unknowable mysteries. What is the meaning of life? Does God exist? What are the the 11 secret ingredients in KFC’s original fried chicken recipe? Until now, these were conundrums that often drove men to the brink of insanity.

And while some of life’s more existential quandaries may never be answered, one writer for the Chicago Tribune may have somehow stumbled upon a list of the herbs and spices that Harland David Sanders used to make his famous fried chicken more than 70 years ago. 

While traveling to Kentucky to interview the Colonel’s nephew, Joe Ledington, the Tribune’s Jay Jones found himself holding a family scrapbook which contained a handwritten note with 11 numbered ingredients. The scrapbook is said to have belonged to Ledington’s Aunt Claudia, who also happened to be the Colonel’s second wife.

"That is the original 11 herbs and spices that were supposed to be so secretive," Ledington told the Tribune.

Though he originally gave his statement to the paper with “conviction,” Ledington has since “dialed back” the quotation in subsequent interview with Tribune editors.

“It could be; I don’t know for sure,” he said. “I’ve only had that album for four years, since my sister passed away.”

The Tribune published the recipe in its paper on Monday (the main ingredient, according to Ledington, is white pepper), also including instructions for how to cook the chicken.

While all this fuss over what has become a relatively mediocre fast-food recipe may seem a bit over-the-top, KFC has protected its secret formula with the cautiousness of a clandestine government agency. Over the years, the company has gone to great lengths to hide the recipe, while simultaneously using its mystery as marketing technique. In 2014, the brand claimed to keep the recipe in nondescript vault at its headquarters.

"In the 1940's, Colonel Sanders developed the original recipe chicken to be sold at his gas station diner. At the time, the recipe was written above the door so anyone could have read it,” the company wrote in a statement to the Tribune, ultimately failing to confirm that authenticity of the Ledington’s document. “But today, we go to great lengths to protect such a sacred blend of herbs and spices. In fact, the recipe ranks among America's most valuable trade secrets."

[via Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News]