Benne Seed Wafers/Cookies

Benne or sesame seeds made their way to America through the transatlantic slave trade. Though they did not come by choice, these West African seeds came over in the 17th-18th centuries. Enslaved cooks used them to preserve food traditions.

The seeds were prized for enhancing flavor and thickening stews. Today benne cookies are still enjoyed, especially by Gullah Geechee descendants in the South Carolina lowcountry.

Their melt-in-your-mouth texture with nutty, crispy edges makes benne wafers a staple at celebrations like Kwanzaa. Drizzle with chocolate or enjoy their caramelized sesame essence. However you bake them, these cookies evoke a complex history in each bite.

sesame cookies


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These buttery benne wafers will melt in your mouth. Their nutty toasted aroma and caramelized crunch recalling memories of holidays past and dreams yet to come.

Crisp yet chewy, plain or dipped or drizzled in chocolate, these classic cookies will transport you through time and place with each delicious bite.

More than a treat, benne cookies connect us to those who came before while bringing sweetness and community to gatherings present. Savor the flavors, and let the seeds of benne inspire you to reflect, rejoice, and look forward to the future.

benne cookies

Traditional Benne wafers tend to be crunchy and crisp and plain.  I prefer mine chewy and crisp. I also wanted to dress the cookies up for the holidays , so I drizzled them with melted chocolate.

For a more traditional cookie, feel free to ditch the chocolate. These cookies have so much flavor! I think you will quickly become addicted to its nutty, crisp but chewy, buttery rich unique flavor! 

This is one of the most easiest cookies I have ever made.  I love that it makes a big batch. You can whip these up delicious sesame cookies up in no time.

Benne seeds taste and story connect us to the past. So enjoy benne’s gifts in every cookie. I hope they bring sweetness and community to your Kwanzaa or any other holiday celebrations or parties.

benne wafers

Benne wafer quick tips:

  • A light colored baking sheet will keep these cookies from burning. Dark colored ones will burn the cookies. I used a Nordic ware baking sheet. This  one HERE.
  • Do not place the benne cookies close together on the baking sheet or they may stick together. I suggest placing them 2 inches apart.
  • Make sure you use parchment paper if not, the cookies may spread too much.
  • These cookies bake up pretty fast. Make sure you put your timer on 6 minutes. Check them. If they are not golden colored yet, bake them for 2 more minutes. I take them out when the are golden brown but still soft to the touch. You definitely want to under bake them. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them sit for a couple minutes. They will continue to cook.
  • If you are going to drizzle with chocolate, let the cookies cool completely. Don’t drown the cookies in chocolate.  Just drizzle a bit with a spoon. Garnish with more sesame seeds if you like.
  • Chill the chocolate drizzled cookies until the chocolate has set and dried.
  • Store plain cookies in a tight lid container for up to 4 days at room temperature. Do not store chocolate drizzled cookies at room temperature.
  • Store drizzled cookies in an air tight container, once the chocolate on the cookies is set/dry.

Benne or sesame seeds  were brought to America by West African slaves. They were commonly used to enhance the flavors of foods or used as a thickening agent.  African slaves believed the seeds to be good luck. Benne wafers are a staple dessert for many people in South Carolina and they are often served during Kwanzaa as well. Melt in your mouth, crisp, chewy, nutty and caramelized benne or sesame wafer/cookies are perfect for the holidays. For a more traditional type cookie, leave them plain or make them festive by drizzling them with chocolate sauce. Both ways are equally delicious.

Benne Seed Cookies

April Boller Wright
Crisp, chewy, nutty and caramelized benne cookies or aka sesame cookies or benne wafers are perfect for your holiday or Kwanzaa celebrations.  For a more traditional type cookie leave them plain or drizzle them with melted chocolate. Both ways are equally delicious. 
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 6 minutes
Total Time 11 minutes
Course Dessert, Snack
Cuisine Southern, Southern American, West African
Servings 50


  • 1 cup sesame seeds toasted
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate drizzle

  • 2 1/2 cup melted chocolate
  • 2 1/2 tsp coconut oil


How to Roast Sesame Seeds

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the seeds on an un-greased baking sheet for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned.  
  • Remove the benne seeds from oven and set aside to cool completely.Reduce oven temperature to 300°F. Line a light-colored baking sheet with parchment paper.

Benne Seed Mix

  • Using an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar for 3-5 minutes. Add eggs and mix until combined.
  • Stir in remaining ingredients except sesame seeds until a dough forms. Fold in cooled sesame seeds.
  • Scoop dough by the 1/2 teaspoon and roll into balls. Place on the prepared baking sheet, spacing apart.
  • Bake at 275°F for 6-8 minutes until cookies are softly set but still pale golden on the bottom.
  • Remove from oven and let cool on pan for 5-10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Chocolate Drizzle

  • For chocolate drizzle: Melt chocolate in microwave in 30 second increments, stirring between rounds. Add shortening and stir until smooth. Drizzle over cooled cookies


If you want to add some chocolate drizzle to your cookies, let the cookies cool completely. Just drizzle a bit with a spoon or pour the melted chocolate into a plastic zip bag. Snip a tiny corner off using scissors. Garnish with more sesame seeds if you like.
A light colored baking sheet will keep these cookies from burning. If you're using a dark baking sheet, reduce the temperature by 25 degrees. 
Do not place the benne cookies too close together on the baking sheet or they may stick together. I suggest placing them 2 inches apart. Make sure you use parchment paper if not, the cookies may spread too much.

These cookies cook pretty fast, therefore bake them between 6-8 minutes. They should be a light golden brown color. Remove the cookies from the oven and cool about 15 minutes.
Store cookies in a tight lid container for up to 4 days at room temperature. 
Keyword african recipes, soulfood recipes
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  1. I work for an educational training Institute and we always throw a holiday party at the December training weekend, I handle a lot of the prep work. Because Christmas cookies are so easy to purchase, and my being raised with Christmas, other culture’s celebratory goodies were unnoticeable to me. In practicing DEI for our students in our training community of various cultures, I decided I would make and donate cookies to make sure there were treats for everyone and came across these cookies. OMG! So delicious and I am so excited to give these treats to those in our community who will recognize them. Thank you for sharing and these will become a yearly holiday cookie for my own family in appreciation because they are delicious, for their very existence, AND for those who brought them to me, that being you. Thanks so much!5 stars

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and embracing traditions outside your own upbringing – how thoughtful of you. I’m happy I could provide a recipe to support your meaningful efforts this holiday season! Happy Holidays!!

  2. These cookies were so easy to make, and taste so so good! I had not heard of these before finding this recipe on your blog, and I loved learning more about the story and history and culture surrounding them. Thank you, April, for sharing this awesome recipe!!5 stars

    1. Hi Liz!! You’re very welcome! Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving such great feedback 🙂

  3. These cookies are fabulous- thank you for sharing the recipe.5 stars

    1. You’re very welcome. Thank you so much Lisa! 🙂

  4. I’ve never tried any cookies similar to this one and I am so intrigued by your post to give this recipe a try, April. What kind of flour do you use for this recipe?

    1. I used all purpose flour. Thanks so much. I hope you can try it out!