History of the Benne in the Lowcountry
The Benne is a west African name for sesame seed (Sesamum Indicum). It has been a staple in cooking around the world for thousands of years as an oil and as an ingredient.
Benne Seeds were originally brought to Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry sometime in the early 1700's. The first seeds are believed to have been brought from the Caribbean. Benne was first planted in small amounts on plantations. It was soon incorporated into recipes and became part of Lowcountry and Gullah cooking.
The Benne was cultivated in the Lowcountry for cooking oil in the mid-1700's. It was further explored as a potential cash crop in Colonial Charleston as an alternative and replacement for olive oil. The Benne Oil industry in the Lowcountry was not fully developed and other crops that were higher in value such as rice and indigo were favored instead. Benne plants continued to be grown on a limited basis for oil in the Lowcountry until the late 19th century.
Today the word benne is perhaps best known and enjoyed as used in the famous Charleston Benne Wafer. This local cookie traces it heritage to the antebellum time. Its crisp delicate texture with rich sweet, salty and nutty flavor are savored by locals and tourists alike.