Benne Wafers – Charleston’s Classic Sesame Seed Cookies

Benne wafers are traditional cookies from Charleston, SC made with benne (sesame) seeds. Bite-sized and crunchy, they make excellent tea cookies and are ideal for wedding or shower favors or Christmas gifts! This easy, old fashioned Southern recipe will give you that unique, traditional South Carolina Lowcountry flavor you’re looking for!

Benne wafers stacked surrounding cellophane bag of benne wafers

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Growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, one of the local treats I’ve known my whole life are the tiny, crispy sesame seed cookies known as benne wafers.

Sweetened sesame is a unique, slightly nutty flavor you may not have had before, or perhaps you associate it more with Asian cuisine – but it’s the flavor that makes this treasured Southern staple so distinctive. They’re definitely worth a try if you haven’t had them before!

While I’ve always been able to pick up a bag of benne wafers when I’m downtown or even in the local foods section of our grocery stores, I have to say making them from scratch is so satisfying and even more delicious! And unless you live in Charleston, making a homemade batch may be the easiest way for you to taste some of these classic Southern delicacies!

And the recipe is quite easy. The only thing to watch out for is that it makes about a million cookies (over 150!) so you do have to continually feed cookie sheets into the oven for quite a while to use up all the dough.

Stack of benne wafers on blue napkin

Since the recipe makes so many cookies, they’re perfect for bridal shower or baby shower favors or Christmas gifts. Just put them in a treat bag with a cute little label and you’re good to go!

They also make excellent tea cookies since they have a unique and delicate flavor perfect for complementing a cup of tea without stealing the attention for themselves.

History of the Benne Wafer

Benne wafers are delicate, crispy sesame seed cookies originating in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. You can find them today at the outdoor market downtown Charleston, as well as in local Charleston specialty shops and grocery stores. But the history of the benne wafer is much longer, originating in the colonial era.

Benne wafers on small plate with blue cloth napkin

Benne, the plant that produces sesame seeds, was originally brought to the South Carolina Lowcountry from Africa through the slave trade in the 1700s, along with okra and other Southern staple foods. Because of their flavorful and nutty quality, they were used to flavor rice and other foods, and the seeds were also ground into flour.

Benne seed wafers themselves (known more often simply as benne wafers) are delightful little bite-sized cookies highlighting the flavor of the sesame seeds, and have been around for well over a century. Benne seeds were also believed by the Bantu people in West Africa to be associated with good fortune, so these cookies are also a symbol of good luck!

Benne Seeds vs. Sesame Seeds

Since benne (pronounced “benny”) is simply the Bantu word for sesame, you may think benne and sesame are completely interchangeable terms for the same ingredient. But there are differences between a traditional benne seed and a modern sesame seed.

After benne was first introduced in the Southeast, it was soon cultivated as a cash crop since the oil could be used as a less expensive alternative to lard and imported olive oils. Over time, the benne plants were cultivated and crossbred to maximize their oil-producing qualities. The result is the modern sesame seed, which is much less flavorful than the original benne seed, but has a higher oil content (60% in the sesame seed vs. 45% in the benne seed), according to Discover South Carolina.

I recommend for this recipe toasting your sesame seeds to bring out a little more of that nuttiness so characteristic of benne seeds, or if you want the real deal, you can order heritage-grown benne seeds from Anson Mills

You can see the difference here in the toasted vs. untoasted sesame seeds. Browning them for a few minutes in a dry skillet makes a big difference in color and flavor!

Small wooden bowls of untoasted and toasted sesame seeds for making benne wafers

Making your benne wafers

I have adapted this recipe from a cookbook given to me by a friend in elementary school – Treasured Recipes from the Charleston Cake Lady. It has all sorts of recipes for baked goods local to my beloved hometown!

While the ingredients are pretty much the same, I have a couple modifications to the technique.

Benne wafers on parchment-lined cookie sheet

First, the book says to use a greased cookie sheet, but I found it to work much better on parchment paper.

With a greased sheet, the cookies spread with much more fragile, lacy, and overly browned edges. On parchment paper, the benne wafers spread just enough and had smooth edges. You can see the huge difference here!

Benne wafers made on greased cookie sheet (left) and parchment paper (right)

The other advantage to using parchment paper is that they are easy to remove even when cool. On a greased sheet, the cookies stuck so much as they cooled that they shattered when I tried to get them off the cookie sheet and I had to put them back in the oven to soften! On parchment paper I could take my time removing them and they stayed perfectly intact.

The other suggestion I have was a bit of a revelation on my last batch of cookies. In order to get the tiny bite-sized cookies here, each ball of dough is only half a teaspoon’s worth. 

Uncooked balls of benne wafer dough on a parchment-lined cookie sheet

So cute, right?

Also painstaking, because this recipe makes batch… after batch… after batch.

I realized on my last sheet of cookies that it would be much easier to simply pipe the dough into tiny lumps, rather than measuring out half a teaspoon each time. You could even get the cookies a little smaller this way if you wanted! Just spoon the dough into a heavy ziplock bag and snip off the corner. 

Piping dough for benne wafers onto parchment-lined baking sheet

Benne wafers make great favors or gifts!

If you’re looking for a great homemade bridal shower, baby shower, or wedding favor, these are an excellent option because the recipe makes so many cookies!

Remember, in order to get the tiny bite-sized cookies, each benne wafer only uses 1/2 tsp. of cookie dough. Half a teaspoon! Do you know how many cookies that made me in this recipe? At least 14 DOZEN. That’s over a gross of cookies (a gross is a dozen dozen, or 144).

Benne wafers in cellophane treat bag with hand-lettered label for gift or favor

For this photo, I put four dozen benne wafers to fill out one of these little 4″ wide treat bags. Even with that many cookies, you can get three Christmas gifts out of it and still have some left over for yourself! Or you could use a smaller bag like these 2″ wide ones and give two dozen cookies to six or seven recipients! 

These are good for quite a while and we were still eating them a couple weeks after I made the recipe. They do get a little softer with time but the benne seed flavor actually gets stronger! Store them in an airtight container and they’ll be good for at least a week (or two, if you don’t mind them a little soft). 

Please let me know if you have a chance to make these delicious local cookies!

Benne wafers on small plate with blue cloth napkin
4.84 from 25 votes

Benne wafers (Charleston's Classic Sesame Seed Cookies)

Benne wafers are traditional cookies from Charleston, SC made with benne (sesame) seeds. Bite-sized and crunchy, they make excellent tea cookies and are ideal for wedding or shower favors or Christmas gifts! This easy, old fashioned Southern recipe will give you that unique, traditional South Carolina Lowcountry flavor you’re looking for!
Print Recipe Save Recipe
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Southern
Yield: 14 dozen cookies
Calories: 258kcal
Prep Time:20 minutes
Cook Time:20 minutes
Total Time:40 minutes


  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar firmly packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup benne or sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  • If using sesame seeds, rather than authentic benne seeds, toast seeds in dry skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 3-5 minutes or until lightly browned. Set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar until well mixed, light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Make it extra fluffy to add volume to the dough so you get the full number of cookies out of it! Add the eggs one at a time, beating well to combine after each egg.
  • Sift together flour and baking powder. Stir dry ingredients into butter-sugar mixture. Stir in benne or sesame seeds and vanilla extract.
  • Drop dough by scant 1/2-teaspoons-full (I did a little less than 1/2 teaspoon to make them more bite-sized, since the dough spreads quite a bit) onto parchment paper about 1 inch apart. If desired, spoon dough into a ziplock bag and trim off the corner, or into a pastry bag, and pipe tiny amounts onto the parchment paper instead of using spoons. 
  • Bake for 7-9 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Remove cookies onto a rack to cool.
  • Store in an airtight container or separate into baggies as gifts or favors.


The recipe I adapted from says it makes 4 dozen cookies at 1/2 teaspoon each. I got 14 dozen cookies at (scant) 1/2 teaspoon each. I'm sure the scant half teaspoon allows for some of the difference, but creaming the butter longer until it's extra fluffy may make the rest of the difference in quantity.
Tried this recipe?Mention @pinchmeimeating or tag #pinchmeimeating on Instagram!


Calories: 258kcal | Carbohydrates: 33g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 50mg | Sodium: 25mg | Potassium: 80mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 23g | Vitamin A: 338IU | Calcium: 84mg | Iron: 2mg

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  1. 5 stars
    Good morning, Caroline! I haven’t made the recipe yet, but I have appreciated all the insights above. They really help. My question is one that hasn’t been posed: Can I make ½ of the recipe in order to give these little Benne Cookies a try? Thank you!

    1. Peggy it is your kitchen. You are the boss in your kitchen and you can make a whole recipe or 1/2 recipe or a 1/4 recipe. You get to decide 😊😊😊😊😊

  2. I am wondering if anyone ended up freezing them. I am making them for my son’s wedding and am planning to do it a couple of weeks ahead. How does it work to freeze them? Tips please!

    1. I did freeze them 2 weeks ahead, they were not crispy once thawed but were still delicious. Everyone complimented them but I knew they were not quite to be. The leftovers I put back in the freezer and are great straight out of the freezer.😊

    2. Make the cookies, but do not bake. Make them on parchment paper and freeze on cookie sheets. When frozen, put in tightly sealed ziploc bags. Thaw, then bake on fresh parchment. Try this technique on a few first, so that you can make adjustments to baking times!

  3. 5 stars
    These were perfect! I chilled the dough for an hour, used a melon baller to drop the dough. I also toasted additional seeds and used a shot glass dipped in the seeds to flatten them a little.

  4. 5 stars
    Great little wafer. I’ve made them many times over the last 20 years. It has been a while and I lost the recipe and found this one while looking for one to make for a shower. I will tell you that keeping the dough chilled can be a huge help! I have always used a 1/4 teaspoon and rolled them and then flattened them with a shot glass. I chill the dough each time I roll out a pan. This will keep your wafer the same size and thin. Typically, you are looking to have your cookie the size of a quarter, but thinner. Keeping the dough chilled will help with spreading. Thank you for posting!!

  5. 5 stars
    Hi, I just ate my last Charleston Benne wafer. Like others, if I had known these were so good I would have bought a case. So I guess I’ll just have to make my own. I’ll be using your recipe – thanks for the tips. My question is how big a serving for the nutrition information? (258 calories = how many cookies?)
    Thanks a bunch, Pam

  6. One more question, if you please. Is silpat as good as parchment, or is parchment better? I apologize for asking so close to Christmas, so I will use parchment for now. Thank you!

  7. I am severely lactose intolerant, so is it possible (or even advisable) to use oleo or another butter substitute? It breaks my heart even to ask! If butter is the only option, I will just share them as gifts, eat one, and gladly suffer the consequences. Thank you!

  8. Hi there. These sound wonderful! Plan to make these, but can you tell me if freezing the dough for later use is ok?
    Also, hulled sesame is all I was able to locate at our store. What’s your thoughts as far as hulled?

    Terri Linn

    1. Hulled seeds are perfectly fine to use! Toasting them will bring out their nutty flavor. I have not tried freezing the dough for later use, but you would need to let it thaw out before using it so you could pipe the cookies!

  9. I just returned from a vacation in Charleston area and fell in love with these wafers. Any suggestions for baking these at high altitude?

  10. 5 stars
    These cookies were awesome. The recipe made a ton of cookies. I will definitely make them again. I added 2 tblsps of maple syrup to the recipes

  11. 5 stars
    These turned out AMAZING! Our daughter’s fiancé is from Charleston and every time he comes to visit us in Minnesota he brings us a bag of Benne wafers. Their wedding will be in Charleston and I want to have gift bags for the guests coming in from out of state (which will be many). I looked into purchasing small bags of the Benne wafers, but at $4.25 for a 5 oz. bag I decided I’d look into making them myself. I came upon your recipe and decided to make half a batch to start. Using your tips (beating the butter/sugar for 5 minutes and using a “scant 1/2 teaspoon), I was able to get just under 11 dozen from HALF a batch!! I will freeze some just to see how well they hold up. Now the trick will be keeping myself from eating them as I make them for the guests ;-).

    1. Thanks so much for your review, Eileen! That is so exciting that you’ll be using these as favors for your daughter’s wedding! So glad you enjoyed these and that your out-of-state guests will be able to enjoy this Lowcountry classic too!

    2. I am planning to do the same thing for my sons wedding. I am curious how freezing them turned out, would you suggest from your experience? Thank you!

      1. They still tasted great after freezing them but since we live in Minnesota and the wedding was in SC, I didn’t think they would hold up in traveling (they are so thin and delicate), so we made them at a relative’s home in SC two days before the wedding. It was quite an undertaking but we got it done! Good luck!

  12. I really want to try this benne wafer recipe, but I am lactose intolerant. Is it possible to substitute ole for butter? If not, I will make them anyway…I just can not eat them 🙁 .

    1. 4 stars
      Try vegan butter marked as a butter substitute for baking so the manufacturrer will have taken greater care to get the fat and moisture content levels as close to butter as they can. Otherwise try Crisco in stick form. Again, it’s a pretty close match.

  13. Thank you for posting this! I’d had them only once, some years ago, but not forgotten how delicious they were. I’ll be using this at Christmastime coming up soon. Everyone will go crazy for these buttery, and not too sweet, benne wafers! 🙂
    I searched for them using “sesame seed cookies”, and after reading many recipes for Italian sesame cookies, I finally found these – my friend the baker had called them benne wafers, so I knew these were what I was looking for.
    Thanks again!

    1. Oh good, I’m so glad you were able to find my recipe! They’re really a unique little treat. Hope these bring back the memories you’re looking for! They make a TON of cookies, you won’t be sorry!

  14. 5 stars
    I got home from Charleston a week ago and just ate my last benne. If I had known how good they are, I would have bought much more! So glad to see this easy recipe and will try it soon.

    1. Hey Sally, they are delicious and unique little cookies, aren’t they? Have you tried the recipe yet? You’ll love that it will make you sooo many benne wafers!! I hope you enjoyed Charleston!

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