The marvel that is camel milk has gone a long way from being just the favored drink of the ancient nomadic Bedouin tribes of the Middle East – originally consumed more out of necessity than preference, as sources of water and nourishment in the region’s arid deserts were few and far between.
Now with a history that straddles millennia, camel milk stands as an emerging luxury dairy product on the threshold of world domination – valued for its good-fat, low-lactose, and high nutritional properties – the trajectory of its global popularity and influence on the upswing, largely due to its meteoric rising demand and its successful introduction into new and budding markets.
As camel milk has steadily built its renown in multiple countries and continents around the globe, it has also gained impressive and outlandish monikers such as “white gold” and “white blood of the desert,” even being dubbed “the future of dairy.” With its rich multicultural history, this new trending “superfood” is poised to amass and welcome even more followers into its wondrous world in the next few years – the mounting interest fueled both by its novelty as a dairy product of boundless potential, and its worth as a substantially healthier and more sustainable alternative to cow’s milk.
Among the early adopters of prized camel’s milk are reality TV superstar Kim Kardashian, Paleo pioneer Pete Evans, Ironman triathlete and real-life Spartan Ben Greenfield, and men’s health advocate and Bulletproof 360 founder Dave Asprey, among others – all raving about the hot commodity’s nutritive benefits and full flavor.
The media mogul Kardashian tried the delicacy drink during a trip to Dubai and found it intriguing enough to share with her over 182 million followers on Instagram. On the other hand, the celebrity chef Evans champions camel milk as a useful non-immune reactive dairy alternative. Meanwhile, the fitness gurus Greenfield and Asprey, celebrate its pasture-raised and grass-fed origins as a hearty organic product.
A Companion of Civilization
However, amid all this fanfare, what has truly set exotic camel milk apart is its sprawling storied past – tracing its roots to as far back as 3000 B.C. when the “ships of the desert” were believed to have been first tamed and domesticated for their milk and labor.
For centuries, camel’s milk has long been treasured in the cradle of civilization for single-handedly sustaining and enabling nomadic tribes to thrive amid the harsh landscape and tough adversity of the Fertile Crescent’s deserts. For pastoral communities in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, camel’s milk is not only a source of sustenance but also an intrinsic part of their culture and heritage – undeniably shaping their way of life.
In the state of Rajasthan in India, the indigenous Raika people believe their tribe was created specifically by their Lord Shiva to be given the responsibility of attending to camels. For generations, this herding community has reared the humped animal and fulfilled this bestowed duty as filial caretakers – the region now home to 86 percent of India’s camel population.
In Emirati culture, camels were esteemed status symbols – even exchanged as a form of steep currency or offered as a hefty dowry by the newly-betrothed, their wealth and affluence measured by the herd they owned. Jubbah, northwest of the city of Ha’il in Saudi Arabia, is home to towering rock formations etched with some of the oldest examples of Neolithic art – predominantly depicting petroglyphs of camels coexisting with humans, dated to as far back as 1000 B.C.
These communities, and many more, lived and died by the camel’s side – their traditions and lifestyle born out of their special bond of dependence and affinity to this gentle beast.
Historically, Camels proved to not only be a key mode of transportation for some early civilizations – carrying Bedouins across the desert in search of valuable water and shelter – but also vital as an indispensable source of sustenance with their milk and meat. Nomads, known to move in search of new grazing areas according to the seasons, could live for up to a month in the desert on nothing but camel milk.
Recent studies have enlightened that this is largely because of camel milk’s uniquely rich natural mineral properties, containing all the basic substances and building blocks needed by the human body to survive and sustain life for extended periods.
Notably, camels can endure up to seven months without a single drop of water, able to store upwards of 36 kilograms of fat in their humps to survive prolonged lean periods, even while traversing long distances in search of pasture in both desert and arid mountain environments. They can even produce milk when they’ve been deprived of quality fodder for up to three excruciating weeks. Studies show that milk production in camels can range between 17 to 26 liter per day.
Impressively, camels can even produce more milk – for longer periods – than any other dairy animal reared under the same harsh conditions. This shows the lengths by which hardy camels have contributed to enabling civilizations to survive – thrive even – while encumbered by blistering heat in the most unfertile drought-ravaged areas of the world.
A handful of both early civilizations and present-day cultures – among them the Indian Maldharis and the Somalis – have gone as far as enshrining camel’s milk as a fabled “miracle drink.” Though much of these claims are still anecdotal at best, more and more studies are showing that these beliefs passed on from one generation to another may have some merit to them.
Often described as thick and creamy, with a sharp sweet taste – though in some cases also saltier compared to cow’s milk, a single cup of camel’s milk can provide 70 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin B1 and at least 30 percent of the daily value of calcium. Known to also be rich in niacin and unsaturated fatty acids, which can support brain function and cardiovascular health, a glass of camel’s milk boasts three times as much Vitamin C compared to regular cow’s milk, and ten times as much iron.
Despite having lower levels of cholesterol and sugar, camel milk is enriched with protective proteins such as lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, immunoglobulins, and lysozyme. Compared to cow – and even buffalo and ewe milk fat – camel milk contains a particularly high amount of multi-benefit linoleic acid.
Organic and GMO-free, it’s also richer than cow’s milk when it comes to magnesium and potassium content. The National Research Centre on Camel – Bikaner additionally considers the drink extraordinary when it comes to its antioxidant, and probiotic properties.
Raw camel milk contains over 120 strains of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) that are both beneficial to the gut and have remarkable probiotic properties. LAB is known to help regulate bowel function.
With all these newly-discovered holistic benefits, it becomes apparent how camel milk can single-handedly fulfill the nutritional requirements of nomadic people for extended periods.
Backed by more than 400 scientific publications, camel’s milk is reportedly the closest milk substitute we have to healthy human breast milk – sharing a host of immune factors and growth promoters with nutrient-rich colostrum. Colostrum, also known as “first milk”, is an advantageous mammary secretion produced by cows, camels, and other related animals.
However, the most astounding property of camel’s milk is that it doesn’t contain the protein that produces a severe allergic reaction in those who are lactose intolerant. Having low levels of β-lactoglobulin or lacking it all together, camel’s milk can safely be consumed and digested by those unable to break down this complex sugar present in most milk.
Cow’s milk rings in at eighth place when comes to the most prevalent food allergen in the United States – the negative reactions triggered by its milk proteins ranging from detrimental rashes and digestive pain to excruciating respiratory blockage and heavy breathing.
Due to this, the market has become saturated with a myriad of plant-based dairy alternatives – among them almond, coconut, rice, oat, and soy kinds of milk. However, all of these milk substitutes pale in comparison to camel’s milk when it comes to nutritional advantages, as well as in taste. In a study conducted among children with confirmed allergies to cow milk, 80 percent did not experience an allergic reaction when consuming camel’s milk.
Paleo-approved, Keto-certified, and gluten/grain-free, camel milk’s health benefits have proved pivotal as a driving force in its rising popularity and cult following among health buffs – especially among those seeking the important nutritive properties of milk, but have been diagnosed as lactose intolerant.Nomadic Spread
Camel milk’s widespread traditional influence can probably be attributed to its quintessentially nomadic nature – these resilient humped steers being extremely adaptable to different climates, found to thrive even in the cold of Russia, the warm and wet rangelands of Australia, and the wide-open plains between Amish country and Arizona in the United States.
According to the latest numbers from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the world population of camel livestock is estimated at 7,833,109. However, the United Nations says this statistic could be as high as 20 million since most camels are owned by nomads which makes them hard to account for. Of this, around 1.2 million are reported to live in the wild, the world's largest feral population.
The population is made up predominantly of Dromedary, or Arabian camels at more than 17 million – these are characterized by their single hump and are the species chosen for milk production. The remaining 2 million are two-humped Bactrian camels.
In 2018 alone, FAO pegged international whole fresh camel milk production at 3,137,071 tonnes – dominated by countries in North and East Africa, and the Middle East. Australia has also seen the potential of camel milk – already gaining momentum as one of the fastest-growing agricultural industries in the country – their yield jumping from just 50,000 liters in 2016 to more than three-fold at 180,000 liters per annum today.
At present, camel milk represents only a 3 percent chunk of the mammoth $360-billion global dairy market. However, market research company Technavio has high hopes for the camel milk industry, seeing it grow at an exponential 6.8 percent rate each year between 2018 and 2022 – the emerging market valued at $10.81 billion in 2017 seen to balloon to $15.05 billion in the next three years.
An indication of rising curiosity toward camel milk is that in places where camel milk is rapidly gaining interest, demand quickly exceeding and outstripping supply. Importing shipments of both fresh and powdered camel milk, these emerging markets include the United States, China, the United Kingdom, Singapore, the Netherlands, Germany, and the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand and Malaysia.
In the United States, Desert Farms became the first US company granted a USDA license to sell camel milk commercially in 2015. Based in California but working with camel farmers in the Midwest.
With snowballing concerns on the environmental cost and impact of livestock rearing – as well as the threat of climate change and global water scarcity – reliant camels are being considered by advocates as somewhat more sustainable in the long-run due to their low water intake. Able subsist on even just scant grasses and thorny bushes, Camels now stand as the second-fastest growing herbivorous domesticated livestock in the world, only behind the buffalo.Wondrous New World of Camel Milk
The strength of this wondrous new “superfood” is the ease of why which can be added to your daily diet. Tasty camel milk can easily substitute cow’s milk in your daily coffee, tea, or smoothies and may also be consumed plain as is – its taste not as gamey or distinctive as sheep or goat’s milk. Camel milk also sours slowly, so it can actually be kept fresh longer without refrigeration, as compared to cow’s milk.
With its unique grassy and lean taste, camel milk is great for both cooking and baking – uncomplicated to incorporate into baked goods, sauces, and soups – even in household favorites like mac and cheese, as well as in pancake and waffle batters.
With more and more players entering the flourishing camel milk market, innovative products like chocolates and ice creams are also seamlessly carving a niche for the novel drink.
As camel milk mounts its conquest and expansion into greater markets around the world, let’s run down why and how it has marked its path as a multicultural product with deep traditional roots in a handful of countries and with the steadily rising popularity and renown in all seven of our continents. Here are the 7 wonders of camel milk and its cultural influence abroad:1. Somalia
A small country in the horn of Africa, Somalia is both the world’s biggest consumer of camel milk, as well its largest producer – yielding some 850,000 tonnes of fresh whole camel milk a year. To put this staggering amount into perspective, another major camel milk producer in the world is Saudi Arabia with only 89,000 tonnes annually.
Despite this record production, however, almost zero is exported into international markets – the country’s milk chain burdened by poor state roads, a lack of modern cold storage facilities, and irregular power supply.
Nonetheless, some 1.5 to 5 tons of camel milk pass through Somalia's capital of Mogadishu daily – ferried and sold locally by small-scale women milk traders, called abakaar, their supply coming from camel herds as far as 100 to 150 km outside of the city.
The Somalis’ incredible appetite for milk is unprecedented. In 2014 alone, the country’s milk production industry earned about $3.3 billion solely from local sales – of which $2.7 billion can be attributed to camel milk profits. The country has the highest population of domesticated camels in the world at 7.2 million.
Bordered by Ethiopia to the west, the Gulf of Aden to the north, and Kenya to the south, Somalia relies on the export of goats and sheep, and livestock for about 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Despite being a global leader in cattle trade however, the lack of a decisive central government and strong institutional capacities has largely stalled the industry.
However, East Africa is emerging as a cradle “superfoods” – from Ethiopia’s protein-rich teff seeds to Senegal’s gluten-free “miracle grain” fonio to Somalia’s prized camel milk to baobab and dried hibiscus – savvy Western customers fueling interest in investments into these still largely informal local industries as demand sky-rockets.
In recent years, organizations like USAID (United States Agency for International Development), VETAID, and Tierärtze Ohne Grenzen (Vets without Borders), have been working tirelessly, cooperating with Somali herders and milk traders to establish a viable camel dairy industry seen to better the lives of these farmers.
In 2016, a former Somali nomad now based in Sweden developed the startup Ari.Farm (derived from “ari” which means “goat” in the local language) – envisioned as a tech-powered livestock market that enabled users to purchase or invest in local livestock, injecting some much-needed cash into an ailing market devastated by recurring droughts and water scarcity.
Ari.Farm has now gone a step further though and introduced cryptocurrencies as an accepted mode of payment – aware of the high earning potential of virtual coins. So far, about 10 percent of Ari.Farm’s transactions are traded through bitcoin – among the app’s viable investment options being the lease camels for timespans between 3 to 18 months. With the arrangement, you can earn a dividend of up to 5 percent from the profits of the camel farmer you helped finance.2. Saudia Arabia
The emergence of Arab civilization and the domestication of the camel are closely interlinked, the two virtually inseparable from each other.
Believed to be the cradle of camel culture, early Saudi Arabians were some of the first to forge the harmonious human-dromedary relationship. In Nineveh, red sandstone and stela slabs dated to 853 B.C. depict fierce Arab warriors and archers on camelback trudging to war. A replica of this tableau can be found in the National Museum in Riyadh.
To commemorate how camels have played an important part in Arab life through the ages, the country even celebrates the annual King Abdul Aziz Camel Festival near Riyadh – a colorful crown-sponsored fete that includes camel racing and camel pageantry festivities.
Saudi Arabia opened the world’s very first camel dairy in 1985, the now-defunct Mujajim Dairy – the pioneering production plant solely devoted to the research and commercial production of camel milk.
With possible exportation in mind, Dubai veterinarians and agriculturists started plans for a modern camel-milking facility more than three decades ago. In 2003, the research efforts finally came to fruition with the establishment of the Emirates Industry for Camel Milk Products (EICMP).
Approval to export camel milk to the EU (European Union) was first granted to Saudi Arabia in 2013. That same year, the EICMP started distributing to Malaysia, eventually being awarded halal certification in 2014.
Your visit to Saudi Arabia is not considered complete without tasting a glass of their famed camel’s milk. Saudi citizens are reported to consume an average of 33 liters of camel’s milk every year.
Banking on the innate local love for the product and the curiosity of tourists for a taste of camel dairy, the United Arab Emirates-based Al Nassma became the largest seller of camel milk chocolate bars in the world in the late 2000s – the company aiming to produce and retail upwards of 100 tons of premium camels’ milk chocolate every year.
With its 6,000-herd camel farm just 15 kilometers away from its factory, the chocolatier Al Nassma is a popular take-home item and souvenir among travelers to the Middle East region often sold luxury hotel gift shops and private airline lounges in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, Muscat, and Saudi Arabia.
However, the brand has also set its eyes on global expansion – now available in other nearby Arab countries like Morocco and Egypt, as well as the European Union, Japan, China and, the United States.3. Kenya
Camel milk is not called the “elixir of the desert” for naught. With skin hydration properties, camel milk is impregnated with natural anti-aging agents such as elastin, vitamin C, and lanolin – these active ingredients present in commercially-available creams, soaps, and baths. It’s even rumored that Egypt’s inimitable and beautiful Queen Cleopatra herself favored luxurious camel milk baths to keep her skin supple and ageless, as well as clear her complexion.
In Kenya, the world’s second-largest producer of whole fresh camel’s milk, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology is championing a line of holistic skincare products derived from their country’s prized commodity, demonstrating youthful and replenishing properties. Pure camel milk has been successfully used to produce artisanal soaps, lotions, and hand creams in the country.
Kenya yielded some 876,224 tonnes of whole camel’s milk in 2017 alone, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization Corporate Statistical Database (FAOSTAT) – with a total camel population of around 3.3 million. Nowadays, this African nation is innovating camel milk not just in the realm of beauty, but also in how it can be effectively dispensed and sold.
The northeast Kenyan county of Wajir some of the first, and probably the only, camel milk “ATMs” in the world. Designed to resemble an automated teller machine, these refrigerated camel milk dispensers are saving this valuable product from spoilage, with the country’s temperatures averaging 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) during the scorching dry season.
In a country beseeched by persistent droughts and feverish heat, transporting perishables is both labor-intensive and cumbersome. In the past, ferrying fresh camel milk from the herding community of Hadado, a village 80 kilometers removed from Wajir to commercial centers meant exposing the commodity to dangerously high temperatures – the journey taking longer than three hours via public buses or tuk-tuk taxis.
By the time the product reached the marketplace, some 25 percent of the milk may have already been lost to spillage – or worse premature souring and spoilage. This unique private camel milk initiative has equipped local women traders of the region with refrigerators to cool and store their milk products – these ATM-like vending machines dispensing fresh camel milk with a drop of a silver shil.
Climate change is a looming threat in Kenya, the country beset by more frequent and longer dry spells in the past couple of years. These punishing conditions have proven disastrous for a country with at least 60 percent of its population relying on livestock for a living. More and more of the region's nomadic herders have traded cows for camels – and their milk – as their renewed drought-safe source of livelihood.4. Ethiopia
The pastoral area of Ethiopia is the main camel belt in the horn of Africa – the country’s camel population estimated at 4.8 million, or a third of the world total with some 2.4 million herded in domestication. Of this, around 458,760 were classified as lactating camels by the FAO – with annual milk production pegged at 608,315,760 liters, generating roughly USD 196,449,900 in GDP for the developing country.
In Ethiopia, camels are mainly reared by ethnic groups in the Afar and Somali regions, as well as areas of Borena and Kereyu in the Oromia region – camel milk being a staple food among the country’s pastoralist communities.
The country’s camels recently went viral due to an initiative spearheaded by the non-government organization, Save the Children: Mobile Camel Libraries. It is commonplace for camels in the Somali region of Ethiopia to transport and haul heavy goods across the lowlands to remote areas. However, what’s inventive and new is seeing them heave hefty trunks filled with around 200 books to reach 22,000 underprivileged children in 33 far-flung villages around the country.Recipe for Chicken and Camel Milk Tagine
Tagine, named the shallow clay pot it is traditionally cooked in, is a slow-cooked savory stew dish popular in Morocco, Algeria, and Ethiopia.
This recipe works great to make a tasty lunch or supper and utilizes camel milk.
If there’s a single animal that can exemplify China’s storied Silk Road, it’s the humble camel.
Some 2,100 years ago, China stood as the sole gateway and channel between the east and west – the fabled Silk Road was a significant trade route and corridor that began at the mouth of the Yellow River, and traversed the ancient Chinese of capitals Xi'an and Luoyang, before cutting past Central Asia into Europe.
During this revolutionary era for world commerce, robust camels proved an important resource in transporting goods through greater Eurasia in sprawling caravans. Around 405,300 camels are reportedly being raised in China today, higher than the 242,800 of 2011, but still a sharp drop from the height of the population in 1981 which then stood at 640,000. The number fell tremendously during the 80s and 90s as the country adopted increased industrialization and threw the steers by the wayside. However, with mounting interest in camel milk imports, the industry is seeing a new rebirth.
Of the current total, 52.94 percent are being reared in the Xinjiang region, followed by Inner Mongolia with 26 percent. The Inner Mongolia Institute of Camel Research was established in Alxa League in 2014 to bolster this fledgling camel market.
Earlier this year, China's General Administration of Customs issued a notice allowing Kazakh camel dairy products to enter the Chinese market – Chinese buyers gravitating toward the powdered milk variety of the newly sought-after commodity.
Just last year, a lucrative camel milk powder store was opened at the China-Kazakhstan Horgos International Border Cooperation Center, sales for its inaugural year reaching an impressive 600 million tenge ($1.5 million). Camel milk powder is produced using minimal processing, and still maintains the full range of all the fragile immune-boosting and regenerative components naturally present in fresh raw milk.
The Chinese are ludicrous consumers of powdered milk – the country imported 1.36 million tons of milk powder product solely in 2019, the amount valued at $8.3 billion. A 20.8 percent increase in volume and 15.5 percent jump in cost, compared to the previous year. In the first four months of 2020 alone, China has already brought in $3.1 billion in powdered milk products, a 5.5 percent year-on-year upturn.
Insiders are valuing the current Chinese camel milk market at 984 million renminbi (USD 141,868,505), but with local and international demand on the rise, the appraisal expected to reach as high as 2.228 billion renminbi (USD 321,222,590) by 2024.United Kingdom
Poised as one of camel milk’s potential untapped markets, the company of owned by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, began offering the luxe commodity in select ethnic stores in early 2014 – targeting prospect clientele in the pocket Muslim communities of London, Brighton, Manchester, and Bradford.
Surprised by the immediate interest toward exotic drink, the producer took a bold swing in 2017, as the camel milk first appeared on the shelves of British retailer and supermarket chain Asda. The endeavor has ripened tremendous growth for the company: It’s farm expanding from just a 600-camel her in 2006 to 6,145 in 2018 – a more than ten-fold spike, coupled with production that now exceeds four million liters of milk per annum.
As it stands, camel milk is now shipped to 144 Asda stores across the UK – the high demand even inspiring a spinoff line of camel dairy ice cream by the same company.
Glasgow’s The Willow Tea Room recently caught the attention of national British media for selling “Camelccinos” – as implied by its name, a cappuccino topped with frothy steamed camel milk foam. Part of the proceeds from the sale of the inspired coffee drink was donated to help women camel herders in remote Kenya. Fancy some high tea with camel milk in the UK sometime soon?7. USA
Raised in Jeddah, entrepreneur Walid Abdul-Wahab founded Desert Farms, intending to spur a camel milk revolution in the US.
Moving to California, Walid studied business administration, finance, and entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California and graduated in 2013. That same year, he serendipitously discovered the untapped market potential of camel milk, after being offered a bag of this so-called “white gold” while on a summer vacation in his home country of Saudi Arabia.
Upon returning to America, he scoured the Midwest to discover farmers surreally raising camels on US soil – finding them in the Amish and Mennonite communities of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, and Missouri. By 2015, Desert Farms became the first US company granted a USDA license to sell camel milk commercially, offering a line of products that range from frozen fresh camel milk to powdered camel milk to camel milk kefir, among others.
Desert Farms recently even expanded its product line into beauty and wellness products like pure camel milk soap, offering camel hump as an organic alternative to butter and cooking oil. Camel hump fat is abundant with beneficial fatty acids, among them palmitic acid, stearic acid, and oleic acid.Camel Milk Waffles
An all-American favorite and breakfast staple, replacing cow’s milk in favor of camel milk can turn this classic comfort food to a healthier and more rich treat to kick start your morning.
Camel milk is steadily growing its renown and global popularity as a nutrient-rich “superfood” and as a hearty full-flavored drink – putting cow’s milk and other dairy alternatives to shame when it comes to health benefits and nutritional value. More players are taking notice of its potential too, capitalizing on its increasing demand by introducing more inventive and delectable camel milk-based products like chocolates and ice cream – all the while also stoking more interest for this hot commodity on the rise.
Camel milk’s surprise success and international influence are built on its millennia-straddling history as a prized elixir – tracing its origins to the wandering Bedouin tribes of ancient Middle East, to the Silk Road caravans of China, to the nomadic East African farmers in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, and the humble Amish herders of Arizona today, all in one way or another shaped by the value and labor contributed by this gentle companion beast.
With a list of holistic benefits that is both sprawling and endless and well-deserved monikers like “white gold,” “white blood of the desert,” the “elixir of the desert,” and the bright “future of dairy,” thankfully nature has gifted us with camel milk, a true boon to mankind.