Ingredients & Condiments
The thrifty Estonian grain mix makes creamy drinks and candy bars.
When faced with a lack of ingredients, Estonians made sure nothing went to waste. A thrifty combination of leftover milled grains— typically barley, rye, oat, and pea—became known as kama. Kama never went bad, and it required no cooking—historically, peasants mixed it into sour milk to make a tangy, summertime beverage still enjoyed today.
Perhaps the most resourceful use of kama is the candy bar known as Kamatahvel. In the 1970s, a combination of rising chocolate prices and Soviet limitations on trade led to chocolate shortages in the Baltic states. In response, a candy company started producing a sweet treat that blended kama with evaporated milk, coffee, sugar, and cocoa powder. Kamatahvel didn’t taste like chocolate, but that didn’t stop Estonians from falling in love with the bar. It was discontinued in the 1980s, but nostalgia was strong enough that the company brought it back in 2001.
Estonians also incorporate kama into desserts and breakfast. Adding it to kefir or milk creates a porridge-like base that diners sweeten with berries and sugar. In recent years, restaurants and bakeries have added kama cakes to their menus, as well. Because the powder is essentially just a mishmash of flours, the transition from necessity to novelty has been seamlessly delicious.