For more than 20 years, the same burning question has occupied the minds of SpongeBob SquarePants viewers; it’s persisted over more than 13 seasons and nearly 250 episodes, as a strange, pants-wearing sponge and his sheltered bestie terrorize Bikini Bottom. It is, in many ways, the overarching question of the long-running series.
What is the Krabby Patty secret formula?
The thousand-dollar question of Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants cropped up in one of its very first episodes. Back in 1999, when the show was still in its earliest stages, it aired an episode titled “Plankton” and introduced the world to one of the most persistent villains in television.
The central baddie of SpongeBob has his sights set on a very specific goal. After decades of feuding with his former friend and current restaurateur rival, Plankton finds himself on the losing end by the time he meets SpongeBob. His restaurant, the Chum Bucket, is failing, while Mr. Krabs’ establishment, the Krusty Krab, is thriving. He can hardly make ends meet, and Mr. Krabs is absolutely flourishing. This breeds resentment in Plankton, who makes it his life’s purpose to find and steal the secret formula behind Mr. Krabs’ success.
Nearly every episode of SpongeBob featuring Plankton has some scheming behind it, as the character works tirelessly to discover the secret to Mr. Krabs’ success. This secret apparently comes in the form of the perfect burger recipe, complete with a final, confidential ingredient. Plankton sets his sights on the secret formula behind the popular Krabby Patty, and for 13 seasons, his focus has hardly wavered. It’s honestly impressive.
There are a few different explanations given — over more than 23 years of SpongeBob content — for the secret to Mr. Krabs’ success. The secret ingredient behind those addictive Krabby Patties has been revealed within the series on several occasions, only to later be debunked or, at the very least, completely ignored. This leaves Plankton to continue his entrepreneurial efforts.
There are also a few non-canon explanations proposed by fans. In lieu of a genuine explanation, some viewers believe they may have discovered the true secret ingredient in the Krusty Krab’s most popular menu item.
What’s in a Krabby Patty?
First and foremost, let’s discuss the ingredients we’re already familiar with. Viewers have seen SpongeBob construct countless Krabby Patties over the years, so the initial ingredients are nothing new. A typical Krabby Patty consists of:
- One sesame bun
- One Krabby Patty
- Ketchup and mustard
- Pickles (can’t forget the pickles)
- Lettuce, tomato, and onion
A “proper” Krabby Patty also supposedly has barnacle shavings mixed into the meat, an addition that sounds a bit iffy, but in fact may be delicious. Barnacles are edible, after all, and considered absolutely delicious by those that consume them, so why not shave one down to add some extra kick?
The basic — but very tasty looking — recipe for a Krabby Patty is missing only one thing. And no one knows for sure what it is.
What is the secret formula?
The final, hidden aspect of the Krabby Patty formula remains the only differentiating factor between a Krabby Patty and a regular, uninspired burger. It’s been a close-kept secret at Nickelodeon for decades now, and no official answer has ever been given. This leaves the many SpongeBob fans out there to theorize for themselves, and they’ve come up with a few solid potentials.
A season three episode supposedly revealed the secret ingredient behind Mr. Krabs’ popular patties. In “Plankton’s Army,” Plankton celebrates the 25th anniversary of his very first attempt to steal the secret formula by… once again trying to steal the secret formula.
Only this time, he succeeds. Plankton, aided by an absolute horde of family members, finally — after two and a half decades — gets his hands on Mr. Krabs’ recipe book. Within its pages, he finds the recipe for the secret additions that make Krabby Patties so addicting. The recipe consists of “a pinch of salt, three teaspoons of chopped onion, a cup of love,” and “four heaping pounds of freshly ground plankton.”
While this episode very much makes it seem as though the genuine product has been revealed, it is essentially retconned by the time the next episode comes around. Plankton is back to his usual shenanigans, once again hunting for the secret formula. It seems, at the end of the day, that Mr. Krabs may have simply been trying to dissuade his tiny rival from more attempts at replication.
A very compelling theory proposes that the secret ingredient in Krabby Patties is actually whale.
See, Mr. Krabs has a daughter. His young progeny, Pearl, has little in common with her father, however. She is a mammal, rather than a crustacean, and one with a few thousand pounds on her old man. It’s never made much sense that Mr. Krabs had a whale for a daughter, and Pearl’s mother has never been a major inclusion in the series.
Thus, a theory was born. A single whale carcass can supply sustenance to an entire fish community for decades, if it sinks to the ocean floor. This fact has many fans theorizing that the secret ingredient in Krabby Patties is actually whale meat. The theory posits that Mr. Krabs stumbled across a whale carcass some years ago, and claimed both its meat and the young, abandoned whale calf that was with her. Thus, he gained both a daughter and a thriving business model.
Another convincing theory proposes that crab, rather than whale, is the vital ingredient behind the Krabby Patty craze.
It seems rather grim, but support for this theory is honestly pretty sound. For one thing, examine the Krusty Krab restaurant. Look familiar? That’s because the establishment is styled after a crab trap. Combine this with the fact that no crabs other than Mr. Krabs ever appear in the series, and you’ve got the groundwork for a rather convincing argument.
This theory is bolstered by an old recipe for Krabby Patties, released by Nickelodeon itself. The recipe lists a number of ingredients, but the vital patty meat is made from one primary ingredient: imitation crab meat. Down in Bikini Bottom, where crabs would (typically) be far more available, we assume the “imitation” part of that recipe is nixed.
King Neptune’s Poseidon Powder
One of the most popular Secret Formula potentials leans on the inclusion of a specific ingredient noted by the official Krabby Patty recipe: Poseidon Powder. It’s unclear what the specialized ingredient actually is, but SpongeBob fans have some theories.
Speculation as to the true purpose of Poseidon Powder has reached far enough, in fact, that even Urban Dictionary has a page dedicated to the ingredient. The page agrees with the vast majority of the internet in identifying King Neptune’s special powder as… well, exactly what it sounds like. Drugs.
Urban Dictionary identifies Poseidon Powder as “cocaine,” and most people tend to agree. The theory is bolstered by the entirely canon habit-forming nature of the Krabby Patty, a phenomenon that is emphasized in the season three episode “Just One Bite.” The storyline in this episode follows Squidward after he tries his very first bite of a Krabby Patty, and becomes instantly addicted. Even to his detriment, the former Krabby Patty detractor becomes utterly enthralled by the less-than healthy meal option, and utterly gorges himself on them by the end of the episode.
The seemingly addictive nature of the Krabby Patty has led many a fan to lean on the illicit explanation behind the Secret Formula. It would honestly make sense; it explains the popularity of the restaurant, the seeming compulsion behind many of the restaurant’s most regular customers, and Mr. Krabs’ elusiveness when it comes to his key ingredient.
One final theory is too realistic for us to ignore. Reddit user u/Herolover96 proposed, all the way back in 2016, that the secret ingredient in the Krusty Krabs’ most popular menu item is, in fact… nothing. They believe that the idea of a “secret formula” is simply a sales tactic employed by Mr. Krabs to sell more patties, and, honestly, it makes a lot of sense. No one can steal your secret formula if you don’t actually have one, but the idea of an elusive, exclusive meal option is certainly tantalizing for customers.
They present evidence to support their point, noting that — in an episode in which Plankton recruits Patrick to create a new slogan for the Chum Bucket — his restaurant manages to outsell the Krusty Krab. They believe that Mr. Krabs uses the alluring potential of a “secret formula” to keep Plankton distracted from maintaining his own business, effectively eliminating his main competition.
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