Is camel milk the new cow's milk?

HEALTH ELIXIR? Is camel milk set to be the next big thing?
HEALTH ELIXIR? Is camel milk set to be the next big thing?

Fancy some camel chocolate? How about a camel milkshake or a splash of camel milk in your morning coffee?

Substituting cow's milk for camel milk might not sound that appetising but a look at the health benefits and you might be queuing for a camel latte sooner than you think. 

Already popular in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia,  camel milk has been known as a health tonic since the first desert nomads learnt how to milk wild camels.

Now the popularity of camel milk is growing among the health conscious who claim the nutrient-rich drink can help a range of disorders including diabetes, autism, digestive problems and food allergies.

So is camel milk set to become the next superfood to seduce consumers?

In 2006 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said it saw a bright future for camel milk. "To devotees, camel milk is pure nectar. While slightly saltier than cows's milk, it is very good for you. It is three times as rich in vitamin C as cow's milk. Aside from vitamin C, it is known to be rich in iron, unsaturated fatty acids and B vitamins." 

Gilad Berman, the former CEO of Australia's first commercial camel dairy, knows the benefits of camel milk first hand. The dairy in Western Australia milked a herd of feral camels and sold the milk for 15 months.

"We had people coming in and buying the milk for diabetes, autism, lactose intolerance and kid's allergies," says Berman.  "Lactose-intolerant individuals can easily digest camel milk" he adds.  

But do the health claims stand up? Dr Kellie Bilinski, a spokeswoman for the Dietitians Association of Australia, agrees that "camel milk has a substantially higher amount of niacin (Vitamin B3), iron and vitamin C and a similar amount of protein, calcium, fat and lactose to cow's and goat's milk."

"There's some early research that has shown there are health benefits for individuals with insulin dependent diabetes (by reducing the amount of insulin required to produce glycaemic control), however other early research investigating whether there are any benefits in treating autism, breast cancer and Crohn's disease has not been as promising."

Nevertheless demand for camel milk is growing. Lauren Brisbane, chair of the Australian Camel Industry Association, has been working in the industry for eight years. She is in the process of setting up her own camel dairy, with about 30 camels, and is preparing to start supplying to the public in the next couple of months. 

She says there is a big demand for the milk and she has a waiting list of people wanting to buy it. People are asking "'When can we get it?' 'Where can we get it?' There is a large market for it because it is such a high end health product. People from the autism community are saying 'Do you realise that there is an entire community waiting for this?' - We can't produce it quick enough."

Brisbane describes the milk as tasting a little different to cow's milk."It has a little bit of a salty taste but generally it looks and tastes like any milk. It is pure white milk. It is low in fat so it hasn't got a yellowy colour to it. The big difference is when you digest it. You don't get a heavy pitted feeling in your stomach and it is quite refreshing."

She has replaced cow's milk with camel milk in her cooking. "It is the milk we have in our fridge. We drink it. My boys have milkshakes. I have it in my tea. I would use it in a cake, in a Bechamel Sauce for a lasagne. I would use it as any other milk."

Berman believes Australia is in a unique position to capitalise on the camel milk market as it's the only Western country with access to a healthy wild herd of camels. "Latest estimates say there are more than 300,000 camels roaming in the desert." 

Not only that, says Berman, but Australia has "top-class research facilities to refine and research the industry so that we become world leaders in this field."

Sydney Morning Herald