Move Over Cows, Now There’s Something Healthier: Camel Milk
, cow's milk in the U.S. was heralded as a nutrient-rich elixir, one that could all but guarantee the healthy development of small children and the prevention of osteoporosis in elderly adults. It’s golden era long over, factory-farmed cow's milk is now often criticized for containing antibiotics and lacking inherent nutritional value.
In response, sales of soy, rice and almond milk have been on the rise in recent years, but even those alternatives may eventually get some stiff competition in the form of another type of milk gaining popularity overseas right now: Camel milk.
Don’t say, “Ewww”—you’ve (probably) never even tried it. Camel milk has been a traditional food staple among East Africa’s nomadic Bedouin tribes for eons, and praised among them for its health-promoting properties.
The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization has also increasingly recognized it as a nutritional powerhouse that can not only provide physical benefits to consumers, but may also become the basis of a lucrative new food industry.
According to the FAO, camel milk provides three times the amount of Vitamin C and half the fat as cow's milk. Because it also contains hearty doses of iron and B vitamins, camel milk is often prescribed to convalescing patients in countries like Russia and India.
Studies are also currently underway concerning its efficacy in lessening the effects of diseases like diabetes and coronary heart disease.
While Saudi Arabia and Somalia remain the world’s largest producers of camel milk, in the United Arab Emirates, a company named Camelicious is quickly becoming a major distributor of what scientists are calling the world’s next “superfood.”
CNN reports that the Camelicious compound is equal parts milking factory, research center and dairy shop, which sells a range of camel-milk products, including chocolates and cheeses. Ranch-based camels are hooked up to milking devices twice a day and otherwise spend their time roaming within a gated pasture.
Farm manager Peter Nagy told CNN that the farm’s profits depend directly on keeping the camels relaxed, otherwise their milk flow slows. "That's the whole idea, that's the whole concept," he said. "To keep animals quiet, happy. And then, they will produce milk for us."
While some report that the milk tastes no different than cow's milk, others say it’s slightly saltier. But those in Europe will soon get to try it for themselves. Camelicious recently received approval to begin shipping some of its products into the EU starting April 1.
And in the meantime, for small communities in the Middle East and East Africa, getting in on the business could provide a sustainable means of income. The FAO estimates that worldwide, the camel milk market could grow into a $10 billion industry, one that nomadic herders and small farmers could participate in and profit from.
Because camels are hardier than cows—managing to thrive even in drought conditions—they can be a much more practical and less problematic means of income than traditional livestock.
According to The Guardian, in countries like Kenya, NGOs and the government are already making strides to boost local camel milk businesses by providing individuals with access to facilities and distribution help. And in Nairobi, a camel milk cooperative started by a group of 35 local women, today provides more than 200 of them with an income.
CNN reports that the FDA hasn’t yet approved camel milk for the U.S., but one of their own producers, Robert Hand, is a long-time proponent; Hand is lactose intolerant and the camel milk products he hoards during his trips to the Middle East are his only means of enjoying chocolate.