Benne Balls, Trinidad’s Answer To The Jawbreaker
Like any proud West Indian dad living in the U.S., I love spoiling my American kids with sweet and uniquely West Indian treats. Remember the Halloween when I turned them on to coconut candy? Or how about the lifelong love I’ve engendered in them for Elot chocolate bars from Martinique? As of a few weeks ago, we can now add benne balls from Trinidad and Tobago to the list.
Well, the bottom of my kids’ list, anyway…
The word “benne” is of African origin. It means sesame seed. Benne balls, in turn, count sesame seeds as their primary ingredient, as is readily apparent in the photo above. Some combination of sugar and molasses or honey is also part of the mix.
The sesame seeds are toasted, the sweet mix simmered into a malleable, syrupy state. Combined, rolled into form, and set aside to cool, they make for a somewhat surprising flavor experience. The sweetness stays mostly in the background, the bitter flavor of the toasted sesame seeds dominating.
Just getting to that flavor is a challenge, though, as benne balls are hard as rocks! Seriously, they put jawbreakers to shame! If you have any doubts as to whether or not your teeth are up to the task, I recommend you pass these balls.
Personally, I rather like benne balls. Somewhere in my subconscious I think they trigger warm feelings of visiting with extended family back in Trinidad long, long ago.
As for my kids, they won’t be passing up any Elot in favor of these Trini treats any time soon.
If you want to try your hand at mixing up a batch of benne balls, try this simple video recipe by Trini Cooking With Natasha.