Kama - a beloved breakfast cereal

Kama means desire in Sanskrit, yes. It's a tributary to Volga as well. Kama (Kobudo-Kama) is also a frightening sickle-shaped weapon in martial arts. And Kama admittedly is the Hindu god of carnal love, in whose honor the famous Kama Sutra may have been written.

But in Northern Europe, Kama (with or without capitalization) is first and foremost a traditional Estonian breakfast cereal, used for centuries to enhance the taste and nutritional value of various types of sour milk - kefir, yogurt, etc. In the absence of sour milk, Kama may also be eaten with sweet milk, with fruit juices or even with water. In Estonian the word kama is pronounced as an evenly stressed monosyllabic word, with ultra-short "a"'s and an unstressed, equally short "m".

Appearance of Kama cereal:

Kama looks like a brownish powder or meal, giving off a slightly bread-like, enticing aroma.

Kama is prepared by:

  • mixing a number of grains (rye, wheat, oats, barley) together with dry peas and/or beans
  • boiling the mixture in slightly salted water
  • draining off the water and letting the grains (+ peas, beans) air-dry, preferably in sunlight
  • roasting the dry mixture in an oven until it gets its appetizing brownish color
  • grinding the roasted mixture to the optimal powdery consistency of kama - not too fine, not too coarse, but just right

The proportions of the ingredients have varied between different parts of the country, but the commercially marketed Estonian brands of Kama (or Kama jahu = Kama meal) have a rather consistent composition, taste and aroma.

Nutritional data of Kama (per 100 g, approx.):

  • Energy - 1325 kJ (= 310 kcal)
  • Carbohydrates - 60 %
  • Proteins - 12 %
  • Fibre - 14 %

The relatively high fiber content of kama (some 14 %) is a valuable bonus, giving the habitual kama-eater digestive regularity and probably a certain protection against colon cancer. Kama is such a beloved foodstuff in Estonia, that commercial food companies have developed a wide range of kama-containing products, in addition to the traditional kama jahu (meal):

In spite of the great enthusiasm for Kama in modern Estonia, this foodstuff is virtually unknown today in neighboring Finland and Sweden. However, according to ethnological sources, many northern Finno-Ugric peoples - the Karelians, the Udmurts, the Vepsa, the Vadja - have used kama or kama-like foodstuffs in the past.

A Karelian kama-like product was actually brought to Värmland (western Sweden) by the Karelians who were invited by the Swedish king to settle there in the 17th century. (It had become a strategic necessity for the Swedes to populate the uninhabited forest regions bordering to Norway.) This particular kama-like product is mainly based on oats and made into soft granules by pouring the meal into boiling water. The resulting dish - called "nävgröt" (= "fist porridge") in Värmland - is hardly a regular feature of the diet in western Sweden today. But you can always get it at the many country fairs in Värmland, as a demonstration of "what the old folks used to eat".