Friday, July 22, 2005

Cooking Estonian: KAMA

What is kama?

Kama is one of the oldest dishes in Estonian kitchen. People either love it or hate it. Non-Estonians are usually extremely suspicious of it, at least if they're not from Eastern or Northern Europe. But it's popular amongst Estonians, especially in the summer.

So what is it? Basically it's a mixture of various roasted and ground grains that are usually just mixed with sour or curdled milk or kefir or such like. I used to translate it as a 'flour drink' when I was younger, which obviously didn't win it any more friends. The product packaging says: "Kama flour" healthy and natural product made of Estonian crops. A meal from kama flour will provide you with a healthier diet option. Kama flour is a product rich in fibres and minerals* and a valuable source of B group vitamins. Use kama flour with fermented milk products, it will double the healthy impact.'

Making kama
To make kama, one needs to boil the grains separately in a slightly salted water and then dry in the sun/dry place. The grains are then roasted in the oven, and then ground and mixed. The most common kama in Estonia is a mixture of peas, rye, barley and wheat. It's not unique to Estonia though - in Finland they have a similar product, called talkkuna or mutti, depending on the region. The Setus in South-East Estonia and the Finns of Häme region in Finland like oat kama, Karelians prefer barley kama. Finnish talkkuna is usually a mixture of roasted and ground barley or oat, with an occasional addition of peas.

Eating kama
The simplest - and most traditional - way of serving kama is mixing it with curdled or buttermilk. Depending on the amount of kama you end up with a 'külm kört' that can be drunk or with thicker 'kamakäkk' that can be formed into small balls and eaten with hands. If you don't like the idea of curdled milk, then you can mix kama flour with fresh milk and season it with salt and some sugar. Mixing kama flour with sour cream and seasoning with sugar results in another tasty option.

On the picture above I mixed some yogurt, sugar, fresh strawberries and kama in a blender, which resulted into a really yummy, refreshing and filling summer drink. I like the way you can taste something 'grainy' in the mixture. If left to stand for a while, the kama flour thickens considerably and the result is more suitable for eating with a spoon than drinking.
For a slightly modern and more 'internationally agreeable' version, I've mixed kama flour with mascarpone cheese, nuts, some cream liqueur (a la Bailey's) and sugar and rolled into small balls that you put into fridge for a while before serving. (Recipe here)

Kama flour can be used in baking and for making various desserts (I will surely blog about some desserts in the future). There's even a breakfast cereal - kamapallid or 'kama balls' in Estonia know made out of kama flour.

Kamatahvel or kama 'chocolate'

Source: AS Kalev
You can even find kama in 'chocolate' bars - and this product is unique to Estonia. Namely during the Soviet era in 1970s, the price of cocoa beans increased and these became almost unavailable in Soviet Union. The main confectionery factory in Estonia, Kalev, had a witty worker who tried replacing cocoa flour with kama flour. The result was obviously not a chocolate, but it was nevertheless delicious and became very popular in Estonia. I remember buying it as a school kid - it was a lot cheaper than some of the other chocolate bars available. In early 1990s the product was discontinued, as shop shelves in Estonia were flooded with Fazer chocolates from Finland, Marabou chocolates from Sweden and every other chocolate from around the world one can imagine. Capitalism was in full bloom and no-one thought that such a humble product as kama chocolate would have any commercial appeal. However, in 2001 the 'chocolate' was reintroduced. The wrapping paper looked exactly the same, apart from the disappearance of the word 'chocolate' (aargh, the joys of EU regulations;) - now it is marketed as kamatahvel. There was no advertisement campaign whatsoever. But the nostalgia can be a powerful marketing tool - and within months the newly introduced kamatahvel was one of the top-selling 'chocolates' in the market.

If you're curious to try kama, then drop me a line - I'm happy to send you some. Kama is sold in 400 g packets. I can also send you some kama 'chocolate'. I'm a patriotic blogger, you see:)

* Just FYI: nutritional values for the most common kama flour sold in Estonia (produced by AS Cibus) per 100 grams:
Energy 341 kcal, Proteins 15.6 g, Carbs 63.6 grams (of which sugars 1.0 gram), Fats 2.7 grams (of which saturated fatty acids are 0.4 grams), Fibres 14.1 grams, Sodium 0.04 grams, Vitamin B1 - 0.51 mg, Niacin 3.0 mg, Pantothen acid 1.5 mg, Phosphorus 340 mg, Magnesium 115 mg, Iron 8 mg

Update: 22.3.2006 - Manne of Tummyrumble took up my offer and has written about what he thinks of the kamatahvel here.


Manne said...

Love the way that Kama chocolate came back in fashion. Old habits die hard. :) If you are so inclined, I would love to try it, please let me know next time you are planning on going. :)

// Manne

Anonymous said...

How can kamatahvel be like chocolate? Wouldn't it be more like a biscuit if it's made from cereal? Anyway, to a Japanese-speaker this talk of "kama" makes him/her think of gay males. The word (o)kama originally means rice pan but has this other slang use.

Kamatahvel sounds interesting, and I would like to try the other ways to eat kama as well. One more reason to take the ferry to Tallinn.

Anonymous said...

When I read your blog about Kamatahvel I just had to go buy some to try. My eldest son asked me "Why does it taste of peanut butter?". It certainly does.

DH & I enjoyed a dessert of kama mixed with cream at the Wilde Pub in Tartu. So I bought some kama this week to try it. I want to make brownies tonight for dessert & thought I might add a small amount to the flour. The recipe I plan to use has sour cream as one of the ingredients so I could even add it to that first to let the flavours develop before I mix everything together.

I'm going to share this "chocolate" with my other English-speaking friends in Tartu.

Pille said...

Manne - I'm looking forward to your kama-tasting notes:)

Banken - well, it's definitely more like a chocolate than a biscuit texture-wise. Don't ask me how or why.. Though I guess you need to hop on that ferry to Tallinn and check it out yourself.
Thanks for the Japanese language notes:)

Pene - I never thought of it as tasting like peanut-butter - but then I never really eat peanut butter, so can't use that as a reference point:)
Kamabrownies- interesting. Let me know how it worked. And please try my mascarpone/kama/Vana Tallinn truffles, they're my favourite kama dessert! Also, if you read Estonian, then you can find quite a few kama recipes at my Estonian-language recipe site ( - choose "kamajahu" from the drop-down ingredients list on the search page), including biscuits and buns and various mousses.
If you have time, it'd be great to hear more about your kama-tasting session here!

Anonymous said...

I decided to just add a heaped teaspoon of kama to the 1/2 cup flour when I made the brownies. You have to be sneaky when getting teenage boys to try new & unusual foods. I think there was too much chocolate to taste the kama but it did make it a little healthier. I mixed another heaped teaspoon into the whipped cream which my boys didn't mind eating - it does make the cream thicken up more quickly.

I'm one of those "new" Estonians - & slowly learning more of the language after learning some basic words 17 years ago in Australia. Translating is a slow process for me.

Anonymous said...

Thank you again Pille for your introduction to Estonian sweets. The kamatahvel was interesting. The grain flavour definitely comes through, and I just love the valge [white chocolate with blueberries]!

Anonymous said...

Ok, maybe this is where I get to find out what it is I've been eating each time I go to Estonia! There is a cake - it's usually round with a casing of some sort of sweetish dough containing a cheesy/creamy/samolina type filling. Very nice but what the hell is it?

Pille said...

Eden, you're welcome!

Anonymous - I think you mean kohupiimakorp or simply korp? I will be blogging about them soon, definitely before Xmas, so do come back.

J - how much kama do you want? I'd be happy to send you some in October, just drop me an email at nami.nami @ (no gaps, obviously)

Anonymous said...

My favourites are "Kamabatoonid" kama candies. You did not mention them.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nami Nami!

While searching the web for a receipe for Kama we found your website. We are two dutch girls that were in Estonia two years ago for an exchange program. Ofcourse, the estonians made us a typical national meal, including kama. We would love to make it ourselves, but cant find the right ingredients in Holland. Maybe you could help us out, and we could send you some typical dutch food in return? If you're interested, get in touch with us at!

Anonymous said...

I traveled to Estonia 4 years ago, and since then I ordered Kama Jahu directly to Germany by email to
. Sometimes it took a while until I got what I ordered, so last time I ordered 12 packages, that still last.
Now I live in the US and I am not sure if they would send it here too.
So I am glad there is a recipe for it here :-).

else said...

Dear Nami-nami

Great to read so much about Kama, after adding it to my daily menu after a lovely trip through Estonia on the back of my uncles motorcycle last weekend.. I ate it in a Tartu restaurant as dessert, mixed with sugar and Kefir, and brought a big bag back home which is for me now in Helsinki, Finland. I add a couple of spoons to my morning mix of muesli and yoghurt, and I love the taste (guess the herne, peas, do a good special job there). Today my finnish friends also noted that it would be much like Talkuna, as you mentioned. Which would keep me going then here in Finland. Too bad I did not know about the 'kama'chocolate yet last weekend, I have to try that on my next Estonia trip!
I look forward to roaming through your wonderful blog, much recipes to try out.. And happy to see that you also like the Swedish teapot I always drink tea from at my boyfriends house in Stockholm :)

Else (dutch by origin..)

Victor Chisholm said...

I recently returned from a trip to Estonia (and Finland and Latvia). I had Kama twice and loved it. I am so happy to have read more about it - though also a bit saddened as it doesn't look like it would be easy to make from scratch (soaking, drying, roasting, grinding...) here in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Wish I knew about the Kama bars, I could have sought that out in the Kalev stores!

Britt Elizabeth Verstegen said...

I love Kama! When I visited Pärnu in 2004, I became a kamatahvel addict! I smuggled 5 lb. of it to the USA but ran out within months. Is there a good source for it online? I would like to resume my healthful addiction.

Antti said...

I am a Finnish talkkuna-eater since childhood and was introduced to mutti only ten years ago as mutti is not eaten in Tampere region. I just want to say that talkkuna is kama but mutti is something different. Mutti is 'steam-cooked barley' and it is no longer in flour form. :-)

My choice of talkkuna is by the way Rantasen talkkunajauho, which is originally from Tampere but nowadays produced in Laihia. The taste is still the same as in my childhood.

Britt said...

Please, if I send you an international money order, would you send me three packages of kama? I miss it so much and it is impossible to find in the USA.

Agnieszka Tatera said...

I'm doing my European Voluntary Service right now and I'm lucky enough to have Estonian roommate :) She let me try kama with jogurt and I loved it. Now, I'll try to get some, maybe via her family which is suppose to visit her in May, we'll see. I also tried a white chocolate with strawberries (don't remember the name) and I loved it as well :)

smart cell phone said...

How can kamatahvel be like chocolate? Wouldn't it be more like a biscuit if it's made from cereal? Anyway, to a Japanese-speaker this talk of "kama" makes him/her think of gay males. The word (o)kama originally ...

Miss Marty said...

I love Kama Jahu, tried it for the fist time a few weeks ago in Tallinn. Even bought a bag to bring back home. Does the offer still stand to send it? Would also like to try the candy bar too.

Miss Marty

Anonymous said...

Holy crap. I landed here by chance as I was looking for some top local food to bring back - I think I found it. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I had dessert made with Kama when in tallin and loved it. I brought Kama flour ome with me. Where can I obtain more. Also do you have any dood dessert recipes. The dessert I had was smooth and creamy nive been mixing it with Keizer but is still grainy and doesn't get as thick as I would like

Bear Limvere said...

I fell in love with kama when I visited Eesti 2 years ago. My mother's family was from Tallinn, but I didn't grow up with her. Perhaps one of the reasons I loved it so much is I grew up in New Mexico with atole, which is roasted blue corn meal mixed with warm milk and sometimes chocolate. I would love to find a source for kama in the US.

Monika said...

I learned about Kama from our Estonian exchange student a few years ago... I love adding it to my breakfast yogurt, it adds a nutty flavor that I love. I have hoarded two packages in the freezer and will be very sad when they are gone.

Anonymous said...

Can kama be frozen?