Gift Guide 2015: Open Sesame

December 6, 2015



I am in love with grapeseed oil. Its high smoking point lets me stir fry cleanly, without that awful scorched oil flavor. It has more nutrients than canola oil – and it’s made from the seeds of wine grapes, once destined only for the trash.

But I’ve just discovered a “new” oil that has captured my heart.  Benne oil is expelled from husk-on benne seed (a close relative of sesame, it was brought to North America by African slaves). Until the 1890s it was the primary cooking oil in the south; then scientists discovered an odorless way to extract oil from cotton seed and the less expensive oils took over. (Cotton, incidentally, is not specified as a food product, which makes this an undesirable oil in the kitchen.) Now, thanks to the efforts of Glenn Roberts and others, benne’s back.  

Benne grows voraciously in hot, unforgiving climates;  fertilize it and goes crazy. So it will be a good crop to have around in the future. When cold-expressed, it yields an oil so subtly nutty I’ve been finding all manner of uses for it.

The producer, Oliver Farm, has been farming their  land for more than a century, but they’ve recently switched from subsidized crops to sunflowers and peanuts to create their line of oils. They source their benne from Anson Mills – another Southern seed powerhouse – and never process with chemicals or high temperatures (which can kill nutrients.)

This would be a perfect present for adventurous cooks who like discovering great new products. And of course, for food historians, eager for a taste of the past.

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