A benne seed is to a run of the mill sesame seed as a juicy heirloom tomato is to the anemic supermarket variety. They may look the same, but there’s a world of difference in taste. Benne came to the South from West Africa by way of the slave trade, the plant often grown in secret by the enslaved, who used the leaves, stems, and seeds as both a nutritional supplement and a flavor enhancer.
Over the years, as benne became commoditized and was grown mostly for oil, those flavorful seeds became the more muted sesame seeds we know today. With a renewed interest among history-minded chefs and farmers, heirloom varieties of the seed have made something of a comeback in the South, though short of a trip to a Charleston-area farmers’ market, your best bet is ordering a bag from culinary revivalist Anson Mills. So, no, the benne seed is not the sesame seed, exactly; the benne seed is living history.
Source: S Is for Southern by Editors of Garden and Gun