While the consumption of camel milk is relatively new in Australia, it has been used for centuries by Bedouins and nomads in Africa, Asia and the Middle East who lived for months in the desert solely on its sustenance. Today camel milk is seeing a growth in popularity among the health-conscious as a dairy alternative with added benefits.
“Aside from Vitamin C, it is known to be rich in iron, unsaturated fatty acids and B vitamins.”
How does it vary from cow milk?
While similar in colour and texture, camel milk has a slight saltiness to it. A notable difference between the two is that camel milk contains less fat and lactose than cow’s milk.
What are the nutritional benefits?
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) said in 2006 that it saw a bright future for camel milk. “To devotees, camel milk is pure nectar… it is very good for you,” the FAO stated. “Aside from Vitamin C, it is known to be rich in iron, unsaturated fatty acids and B vitamins.”
Lauren Brisbane, Chair of the Australian Camel Industry Association and director of QCamel dairy farm on the Sunshine Coast, believes the drink to be ideal for those suffering from food allergies and intolerances. “Gut and bowel dysfunction is a growing issue,” says Lauren. “Camel milk is soothing on the body and incredibly digestible.” While drinkers might experience significant benefits, Lauren highlights that “It’s not a silver bullet or a quick fix,” and should be consumed in conjunction with a healthy diet.
What does the research say?
Health experts are calling for more research to discover the milk’s potential benefits. Accredited Practising Dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia Kellie Bilinski says “It’s great the people are interested in heath and want to do everything they can to make themselves healthy and reduce disease.” And, she says, “Early research shows that is reduces the amount of insulin needed for people with diabetes, so that’s a positive.”
Referring to recent controversy surrounding claims the milk can act as a natural therapy for children with autism, Kellie says, “I can certainly understand that parents of children with autism would be wanting to try it, so I think it would be really good to have some evidence behind the claims that are being made.”
It suitable for drinkers who have a dairy intolerance?
Camel milk can be a great alternative dairy option. “Camel milk does have lactose but it’s very low, it also has a type of acidity in it that makes it easier for the body to break it down,” explains Lauren, who says consumers are predominantly people who want to drink milk but can’t consume cow’s milk dairy.
Jethro Canteen in Melbourne’s Richmond has seen a positive response to including camel milk on the menu since the café opened in September. “We use it as an alternative for those who are looking for a naturally lower lactose and fat alternative to cow’s milk, that still tastes and works similar to cows, much more so than almond or other milk alternatives,” says owner Billy Zarbos, whose product comes from Camel Milk Victoria.
Is it produced ethically?
Lauren emphasises that ethical camel milk production means managing an animal the way it should be managed, supporting the bond between camels and their calves as well as their natural instinct to live in a herd. “You can’t milk a camel that’s pregnant,” says Lauren, although she says she can’t speak for all camel milk dairies.
Why is it so expensive?
The high cost comes down to the slow production process. “The main way you manage camels is part of the reason why the milk is so expensive,” says Lauren, explaining that the average price is anywhere from $21 to $30 per litre. A camel will produce around four litres of milk per day compared to a Jersey cow that produces around 20 litres. “You do however get quite a lot of effectiveness out of a small amount of camel milk,” Lauren adds.
While the health-conscious and lactose intolerant seem more than happy to part with their dollars for a sip of ‘white gold’, the cost could be harder to justify for those who simply want their morning caffeine hit. “The main barrier has been the price,” says Billy. “At $15 per litre cost price this puts the average 8oz coffee at $5.50-$6 for the consumer,” says Billy.
Is it used to make other products?
Much like sheep, goat and cow’s milk, QCamel will soon be offering camel milk yoghurt, while Dubai's Al Nassma, the world's first brand of chocolate made with camel milk, produces a preservative-free range incorporating local spices, nuts and honey. The milk is also used to make body products for sensitive skin such as soaps and hand wash.
Is there a stigma around camel milk?
Lauren suggests those who turn their noses up do so for social rather than knowledge-based reasons. “I’m finding young people are really up for it, or anyone who has done their research,” she says. Billy adds that a small percentage of his customers have struggled with the idea of milk coming from anything but a cow. “I put this down primarily to exposure and education,” he says. “At the very least it has opened up communication about such alternatives.”
Where is it available in Australia?
Camel milk is currently stocked at cafés, restaurants and health food stores Australia-wide, with camel milk dairy farms operating in every state and territory except Tasmania. You may be queuing for a camel latte sooner than you think!
Central Asia has vast flat plains, including the world’s largest steppe region, ‘the Great Steppe’, as well as mountain regions. This expanse of grassland is renowned for its rich, smooth dairy products made from cow, goat, sheep, horse and even camel milk. Suzma is a tangy yogurt cheese, which is spooned into soups, mixed into salads or eaten with bread and fresh tomatoes as a simple meal.