Whenever I travel, I look for iconic regional foods. Since traveling to Charleston, South Carolina, I have a new favorite: Benne Wafers. These thin little toasted sesame cookies are absolutely addictive.
Unique to South Carolina’s Lowcountry since Colonial times, Benne wafers have a fascinating history. The word Benne is a Bantu word for sesame and benne was brought by African slaves to America from Madagascar (East Africa). Sesame, a versatile seed that can be used like nuts, was planted throughout the South. It has a buttery taste and a sweet, nutty aroma. When toasted, benne seed tastes almost like peanut butter or almond butter.
Plenty of recipes from the Deep South call for sesame seed. None is more popular than Benne Wafers, super-thin, uber-crispy cookies with a sweet-salty goodness. Only a handful of bakeries make Benne Wafers and, trust me, if you open a bag you’re going to want to eat the whole thing. (Besides, if you don’t, the humidity will soften the wafers, ruining one of the best things about these delectably crispy cookies.)
After discovering Benne Wafers in Charleston, I had to have more. After all, the Bantu believe eating these cookies brings good luck and who knows, they just might! I traveled to the Historic City Market in Charleston hoping to find the Charleston’s Own brand of Benne Wafers, the ones I’d originally fallen in love with. While I didn’t find that particular brand, I did find Benne Wafers sold in the market baked by two different bakeries: Dolores’ Southern Delights and Olde Colony Bakery. The cookies cost about $5 for 5 ounces and, since they’re super delicate, I hand carried several small packages home across the country in a heavy bag.
If you’re going to Charleston, I highly recommend picking up some Benne Wafers. Or, you can order them online. Check out the websites listed below. You’ll have these delectable little cookies—and perhaps some good luck—shipped right to your door. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor
Dolores’ Southern Delights (843) 224-7534
Charleston Specialty Foods (Charleston’s Own Brand) www.charlestonspecialtyfoods.com 843-744-8991