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What You Need to Know About Benne

Immature benne pods and white benne flowers in St. Matthews, South Carolina.

For nearly a century before the American Revolution, benne seeds from western Africa thrived in the hidden gardens of enslaved Africans on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. By the late 18th century, benne seeds and the oil pressed from them had become foodway staples for all in the region and a focus of intense market farming. Consumed at every growth stage—from tender young leaves, petite green seed pods like okra, and the mature dried seeds we know as sesame—heirloom African benne carries lovely field flavors. When heated for cooking, the seeds acquire a characteristic nuttiness and deep burnt-honey notes unknown to modern sesame seeds. Anson Mills benne seeds assert their culinary presence by magnifying umami nuances in foods, making them unparalleled for use in both modern and historic recipes.