Benne oil, the South’s second-favorite choice for frying until the late 19th century, has been granted a place aboard Slow Food’s Ark of Taste.
The international program seeks to protect and draw attention to foods which are tasty, regionally-important and endangered. Other South Carolina products already admitted to the virtual Ark include Bradford watermelon and Carolina Gold rice.
The nomination form, submitted by the state’s Slow Food regional governor, claims benne “was grown in all great Carolina kitchen gardens, in particular in the forbidden subsistence gardens of African slaves.” Benne oil was commercially produced beginning in the early 1800s; its flavor impressed Thomas Jefferson, but its success was stemmed by the introduction of refined cottonseed oil, a flavorless and economical repurposing of cotton industry waste.
“Benne oil has a yellow color, usually of a deeper hue than expressed almond oil. (It) is nearly inodorous, and has a bland and agreeable taste,” according to the form, which credits the oil with bringing together the Lowcountry’s other distinct flavors.
There are currently 1684 products in the Ark of Taste. To learn more, visit slowfoodfoundation.com.