Charleston Benne Wafers

Normally when you reach for a jar of sesame seeds, it’s an afterthought. Perhaps you’re adding a sprinkle of sesame seeds on top of hamburger buns. Or maybe you’re garnishing an Asian-inspired meal with sesame seeds right before serving. That’s not the case with these Charleston Benne Wafers. Sesame seeds are the main ingredient in these tasty wafers!

Growing up in Charleston, SC, I remember seeing Benne Wafers everywhere. Many gift shops and stalls in the Historic City Market sold little bags of these wafers. Benne wafers are small – each one is about the size of a quarter – and the bags would hold 1-2 dozen wafers. It wasn’t until we moved away from Charleston that I realized these cookies are unique to the Lowcountry region of South Carolina.

What are benne wafers?

So what exactly are benne wafers? Benne (pronounced “ben-ee”) is the Gullah word for sesame. (And the Gullah word likely derives from the Malinke word . The Malinke people are from Guinea.) Benne plants came to Charleston through the slave trade where they were cultivated into a cash crop. According to , oil from benne seeds was cheaper than imported olive oil or lard. It didn’t take long before benne plants were a staple crop in the regions around Charleston.

Benne seeds are slightly different than modern sesame seeds. Benne seeds are much more flavorful. Modern sesame seeds are a bit, well, bland. To make these Charleston Benne Wafers, you can order benne seeds from South Carolina. Another option is to toast sesame seeds in a skillet into they turn light golden brown. Toasting the sesame seeds adds a lot of flavor – just watch ’em closely so they don’t burn!

Charleston Benne Wafers

If you visit Charleston, you’ll find little bags of benne wafers sold in many stores and stalls. Grab a bag and enjoy ’em! If you aren’t planning on visiting Charleston soon, the good news is benne wafers are easy to make at home.

The recipe starts with a basic cookie base, but of course the unique twist comes from the entire cup of toasted sesame seeds that get mixed into the dough. (On a side note, you’ll need a lot of sesame seeds for this recipe. You could buy a bunch of small jars at the store, but I recommend picking up a – they’re much cheaper that way!)

Thanks to the large amount of toasted sesame seeds in these wafers, they end up with a noticeably nutty flavor. In fact, you’d probably swear there are nuts in the recipe – nope! Just toasted sesame seeds. These sweet wafers make for a great mid-morning treat.

Benne wafers are typically small – roughly the size of a quarter. I used a ½-teaspoon to measure out the dough, and then I went through and rolled each piece into a little ball. (Well, to be more specific, my 6-year-old helper rolled the dough into balls for me!) And thanks to their small size, these wafers don’t take long to bake at all. I found 8-9 minutes to be about perfect.

Benne wafers are crispy, flavorful treats that are sure to whisk you away to the South Carolina Lowcountry. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do here in our house – Happy baking!

Charleston Benne Wafers

Filled with toasted sesame seeds, Charleston Benne Wafers are an iconic sweet treat from the Lowcountry region of South Carolina. Bake up a batch today!

5 from 3 votes

Prep Time: 25 minutes minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes minutes

Refrigeration Time: 30 minutes minutes

Total Time: 1 hour hour 5 minutes minutes

Servings: 72 wafers

Calories: 33 kcal


1 cup 1 cup 4 Tbsp room temperature 1 ½ tsp ½ cup ¼ tsp ¼ tsp


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper; set pans aside.

Using a large, dry skillet, add the sesame seeds and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for 4-5 minutes, or until seeds begin to turn light golden brown. Remove from heat and set seeds aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream together brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy (~2-3 minutes on medium speed.)

Add egg and vanilla extract; stir until well combined.

Add flour, salt and baking soda; stir until well combined.

Add toasted sesame seeds; stir until well combined.

{Optional} Chill dough in refrigerator for 30 minutes. This will make it easier to drop the dough onto the baking pans.

Drop ½-tsp balls of dough 1” apart on prepared pans. (Tip: For an easier method, transfer dough into a piping bag and pipe small amounts of dough onto pans.)

Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown.

Remove from oven and let cool completely before serving or packing into an air-tight container.

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