Unless you’ve actually eaten heirloom benne seeds, you would probably lump them in with run-of-the-mill sesame. It can be argued they are one and the same, but for knowing palates, they couldn’t be more different in flavor. Benne is a low-country staple introduced to America by slaves who brought the seeds from Africa and cultivated them on plantations. In today’s South, you’ll find them on rolls, in crackers and cookies, and sprinkled on both sweet and savory dishes for finishing texture and an umami pop.
This delicious predecessor to modern-day sesame was almost lost for good. “When rice plantations transitioned their kitchen benne to commodity fields for commodity oil production, ‘benne’ became ‘sesame.’ As sesame, benne did not escape heavy pressure for yield, and Southern growers drifted away from an interest in the seeds’ culinary diversity, instead focusing exclusively on oil production. In time, raw benne seeds became nearly flavorless, and they were only slightly more interesting when toasted. In fact, modern American sesame bears no resemblance to Antebellum benne,” according to the website for Anson Mills, which sources and mills heirloom benne.
Try a taste test for yourself by ordering some heirloom benne or benne flour at www.ansonmills.com. Not only delicious, but an excellent source of protein, vitamins and antioxidants.