The Truth About KFC's Famous Mashed Potatoes

When it comes to a side for crispy fried chicken, you could do far worse than a comforting pile of creamy mashed potatoes topped with peppery gravy. Dished out in petite plastic containers and family-size tubs, or serving as the base of a Famous Bowl, KFC's mashed potatoes have been consumed by millions. Most people have likely given little thought to what exactly is in them or how they're made — after all, it sounds like it's all in the self-explanatory name of the dish itself. However, there's a lot more to KFC's seemingly simple potatoes than meets the eye (and the taste buds).

From the powdered potato origins of the mash itself to the sometimes semi-homemade gravy KFC ladles on top, this classic side dish harbors many secrets, some more surprising than others. And while there's nothing nefarious to reveal, there are some revelations that may make even diehard KFC fans waver when it's time to choose a companion for their next order of fried chicken.

Colonel Sanders himself was famously critical of the updated recipes for Kentucky Fried Chicken's mashed potatoes and gravy — in fact, it turns out he was opinionated about a lot of things — but as of 2012, KFC was still selling over 200 million pounds of them per year (via Business Insider). While opinions are clearly mixed, plenty are mighty favorable. But some cold, hard facts are undeniable. Here's the sweet tea about KFC's famous mashed potatoes.

They're made from a powdered mashed potato mix

Very few fast food menu items are ever made from scratch, but since KFC famously hand-breads and fries its chicken fresh at each location, you might expect them to boil and mash their potatoes too (via KFC). Not so. Instead, as Snopes reported, they receive bags of KFC One Step Mashed Potato Mix and just add hot water.

The mashed potato powder itself is made from dehydrated potato flakes, powdered nonfat milk, and other ingredients — so, technically, KFC does use real potatoes, but not in the way you probably mean when you ask that question. The hydrate, heat, and stir method of making KFC mashed potatoes was originally posted to TikTok, but you can also see it in action in our YouTube video.

Many people commented on the original, now-private TikTok post with shock and disdain, expressing disappointment and even, in one case, comparing the mashed potato paste to Play-Doh (via Newsweek).

Others, however, weren't bothered. Instant mashed potatoes are hardly new, after all, or even all that controversial in many circles. For fans of super extra smooth mashed potatoes, they might even be preferred over mechanically mashed spuds. This Quora user does say that instant potatoes tend to have more salt in them, so they might be slightly less healthy than the fresh kind. They are also lower in vitamin C, but you're not hitting up KFC to get your daily dose of vitamins anyway.

They're not as unhealthy as some other sides

No one thinks of mashed potatoes as health food. However, if you're brave enough to click on the KFC nutrition calculator, the mashed potatoes and gravy are hardly the worst offenders as far as unhealthy side dishes.

A serving of KFC mashed potatoes and gravy contains 130 calories, 4.5 grams of fat (1 gram of which is saturated), and 520 milligrams of sodium. Skip the gravy and the plain mashed potatoes contain 110 calories, 3.5 grams of fat (0.5 grams of which is saturated), and 330 milligrams of sodium. Either way, the sodium is clearly the biggest red flag; you'll be getting around 14 to 22% of your daily recommended intake from this single side alone.

However, there are far bigger offenders on the KFC sides menu. For sodium content, the worst choices are the BBQ baked beans and fries, with 650 and 1,100 milligrams of sodium, respectively. If calories are your greatest concern, avoid the KFC potato salad, which contains 340 calories and 28 grams of fat (4.5 grams of which is saturated) — though only 290 grams of sodium.

If you want to order KFC's lowercase-f famous mashed potatoes as a capital-F Famous Bowl, you'll be looking at 740 calories, 35 grams of fat (of which 6 grams is saturated), and 2,350 grams of sodium. But if you stick a standard scoop of gravy-drenched potatoes by itself, it starts looking a lot more reasonable, if only by comparison.

KFC mashed potatoes are full of additives

Hypertension issues aside, you're probably fine to make KFC an occasional treat, but what else is in their mashed potatoes besides a boatload of sodium?

The full, official ingredients list includes potatoes (in dehydrated form), whey solids, nonfat milk, sodium caseinate, calcium stearoyl-2-lactylate, salt, mono- and diglycerides, sodium bisulfate, natural flavors, natural colors, citric acid, and spices. In the gravy, you've got enriched wheat flour, modified food starch, maltodextrin, chicken fat, palm and canola oils, salt, MSG, dextrose, more mono- and diglycerides, hydrolyzed soy protein, caramel color (which contains sulfites), hydrolyzed corn protein, onion powder, natural flavors, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, spices, butter (cream), and a small amount of silicon dioxide.

That's quite a mouthful, but should you be concerned about any of these common additives and preservatives? Since they're present in such minor amounts, probably not, unless you're chowing down at KFC several times a week. That said, those with soy allergies will want to avoid the gravy, as it contains soy. Anyone predisposed to gout or kidney stones should take it easy on the gravy too, as its disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate could trigger those conditions (via Healthline). Healthline says that maltodextrin, a thickening agent, is high on the GI scale, which means it can cause blood sugar spikes. If you have a milk allergy or are vegan (in which case, you are probably not at KFC), you should note that the potatoes and gravy both contain dairy.

KFC's gravy is semi-homemade

TikTok not only showed the world how KFC makes mashed potatoes, but also how KFC makes gravy. Not everyone was pleased — though, honestly, they probably should have been impressed. As with their mashed potatoes, KFC begins with a powdered gravy mix, but in addition to water, they enrich it with the flavor-packed drippings and bits of chicken leftover in their fryers.

You can see a vat of this golden-brown grease thick with crunchy chicken skin debris (aka, cracklings) in all its glory on YouTube. It is, admittedly, not the most appetizing-looking gunk in the world. But when you take a moment to think about it, this is actually a pleasant surprise, and not dissimilar to how you'd make gravy from scratch at home, with pan drippings and fat.

In 2011, long before TikTok even existed, KFC employees posting on Reddit explained that when they ran out of cracklings, the gravy was simply made from the powder and water. One poster deemed this gravy to be less delicious and definitely thinner in texture — so if you've noticed inconsistencies in your KFC gravy on different visits, now you may know why.

A more recent thread on Quora has several posters claiming KFC gravy arrives at franchise locations ready-made in tubs, so it may be that the process has changed, at least in the US. But per the ingredients list on KFC's own site, chicken fat is still in the mix in some form.

The Colonel himself loved cracklin' gravy

KFC's special fryers help with the cracklin' gravy process. The Winston Collectramatic was designed to keep the chicken debris from scorching, which means the oil itself stays cleaner (the Winston Foodservice site says 360 pounds of chicken can be fried before the fat must be filtered), and the cracklings aren't burnt bitter.

Although Colonel Sanders sold his business in 1964, Kentucky Fried Chicken ads continued to name-check Cracklin' Gravy in subsequent years (via Pinterest). A 1970 profile of Colonel Sanders in The New Yorker notes his devotion to his original gravy. A then-current KFC executive was quoted as saying that the "fantastic" cracklin' gravy was also incredibly labor-intensive and costly to make, not to mention far too easy for less sophisticated cooks to mess up. But Sanders was critical of cutting corners, to put it mildly. He also delivered burns hotter than fried chicken grease. When he beheld the pitifully thin gravy at one franchise location, he asked if they served it with a straw.

On YouTube, Glen and Friends Cooking claims that Canadian KFC locations made cracklin' gravy for a longer period. The 2020 TikTok video that depicted the process was shot in the UK, suggesting they may stick to the old style even now — but over time, the gravy did change in the United States.

Colonel Sanders hated KFC's modern mashed potatoes

The goateed man behind KFC was incredibly vocal about his distaste for the way many things changed after he sold the business. In a 1976 article in the NY Times, Colonel Sanders had a lot of unkind things to say about a Manhattan branch in particular and the current chain in general (via Kottke). He charged KFC with grossly over-frying chicken and not changing the grease often enough, and slammed several sides, including the incorrectly prepared coleslaw.

He also compared the mashed potatoes and gravy to "wallpaper paste" topped with "sludge" and said there was no way he would even taste them. In 1978, he doubled down and once again publicly likened the mashed potatoes and "horrible" gravy to wallpaper paste and sludge — adding that KFC "ought not to be allowed to sell it." That time, he was actually sued for libel (via Justia). The case was dismissed, but his savagery was enshrined forever.

From Sanders' salty comments and track record of being a great Southern cook, we can presume that KFC originally sold mashed potatoes and gravy made entirely from scratch. It's worth noting that the modern incarnation of the restaurant Sanders opened after selling KFC, Claudia Sanders Dinner House, advertises that they still make everything from scratch in their kitchen, down to the croutons. The homemade mashed potatoes on the menu are just that — exactly as the Colonel would have wanted it.

The US has missed out on more creative mashed potato options

American-born KFC has had overseas outposts for decades. The first KFC in England opened in 1965 (via LancsLive). According to Metro, UK KFC locations didn't have mashed potatoes on the menu until 2019. They did already have gravy, which is available by the bucket for those who want to pour it on their Christmas dinner plates (via Vice).

Other international KFC franchises have been way ahead of the game — and, frankly, putting America to shame when it comes to mashed potato innovation. KFC Australia, for instance, sold gravy-filled, breaded and fried mashed potato balls called Gravy Mashies in 2017 (via Brand Eating). Per the company's Twitter, that same year, they even offered mashed sweet potatoes for the winter season.In 2012, Japanese KFC fans could order bacon mashed potato fritters enriched with sour cream and herbs, according to Potato Pro

Meanwhile, American KFC locations have never moved beyond using the mash as a base for popcorn chicken, cheese, and corn in Famous Bowls. There is some variety there, as the infamous "failure pile in a sadness bowl" has been available in a spicy Nashville chicken version since 2018 (via Chew Boom). But perhaps tweaking the formula any further is missing the point. While Colonel Sanders certainly didn't approve, it's clear that the plain pairing of mashed potatoes and gravy, no matter what they're made from, will never fall out of favor with finger-lickin' KFC fans.