Thanks to Richard Sommerfeld for his wonderful write-up about our Original Charleston Benne Wafers a couple years back. It was a wonderfully written piece!
“One of the pleasant and enduring side benefits of moving to Daniel Island and the lowcountry was my discovery of Benne Wafers. This is an inch to inch and a half, thin wafer. The principle ingredient is of course Benne, which is the Bantu word for sesame. The plant was brought to the U.S. by East Africans who involuntarily emigrated to the U.S. Thoughtfully they also brought peanuts, sweet potatoes, okra, black eyed peas and collard greens. All these are mainstays in the South to this day.
But back to Benne Wafers. The sesame seeds are toasted, ground and mixed with staples such as flour, sugar (brown or white), butter and a few other things. The recipe for Benne Wafers is akin to that for barbeque and barbeque sauce. Everyone has his or her secret ingredient that supposedly makes his or her product both special and outstanding.
Whatever the recipe, the mixture is baked and the result is that succulent wafer that is crisp and also tender to the point that it will melt in your mouth. In addition to the almost erotic gratification associated with nibbling a wafer there is the dietary benefit. Sesame seeds are high in calcium, vitamins B and E, iron and zinc. There’s more. Sesame is high in protein while being devoid of cholesterol. True, there is sugar in the wafers but nobody ever presented sesame wafers as food for monks. Sesame has a prominent place in Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. In America, sadly, you are most likely to find sesame seeds topping a hamburger bun.
I should caution you that sesame wafers are highly addictive. Part of the allure comes from the size of the wafer, which makes inhaling another three or four easy to do and hard to resist. Fortunately there is no negative after-effect like that of even the most mild of drugs.
It’s important to keep your Benne Wafers in an air-tight container. Exposure to the air results in the wafers becoming limp and soft. No loss of taste but a limp wafer lacks the tactile pleasure of a crisp wafer.
I first encountered Benne Wafers via the Olde Colony Bakery in Mt. Pleasant. The bakery has been producing sesame wafers as well as a few specialized cookies and breads since the late 1940s. Now owned and operated by the Rix family, in a 5-day work week the bakery produces 2000 pounds and more of wafers. A ton! That’s a lot of wafers, as I found out in a test I ran. It took fifteen average size wafers to make an ounce on my postal scale, about two grams per wafer. That means Olde Colony is producing half a million wafers per week for distribution throughout the lowcountry and by shipment almost anywhere all the way to California.
I’d like to tell you more but I’m having trouble controlling my salivating. I’m going to have to take a Benne break. It’s definitely not an accident that I always have an ample supply on hand. Olde Colony is so handy and I’m a regular.”