Benne Wafer (Sesame Seed Cookies) have been a South Carolina’s favorite for over a hundred years. They are light, crisp, and paper thin with a delightful nutty taste that is not too sweet.
Historically, enslaved people from Africa introduced new ingredients to the American South, shaping cuisine in areas such as Low Country (the coastal area around Charleston, South Carolina) of the South. The popular sweet snack known as benne wafers are an enduring result of their culinary influence on this coastal region.
It is believed that West African slaves introduced sesame seeds to America in the 17th century and planted them for use as cooking oil. Benne is, in fact, a west African name for sesame seed (Sesamum Indicum) and it has been a staple in cooking around the world for thousands of years as an oil and as an ingredient.
Plantation owners in colonial Charleston explored the potential cash crop as an alternative to olive oil, but sesame-based substitutes remained a limited field throughout the 19th century.
Instead, home bakers put the nutritious plants to use: they mixed savory, nutty seeds with brown sugar, butter, and small amounts of flour to create a thin, crispy wafer.
Today, the cookies are sold as a souvenir in Charleston and its surroundings. The sweet-and-salty snack remains a favorite among visitors and locals alike, but few know that their treat’s origins trace back to the most egregious period in United States history and, according to legend, the benne wafer should be eaten for good luck.
Images from web – Google Research