How Do You Milk A Camel?

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Yesterday was a day of much excitement – I was at the London Health Show and got to try camel milk for the first time. It’s something I’ve wanted to taste for a while bit it’s super expensive so while you can buy it in London I hadn’t rushed off to get some – however when I was offered a thimble sized sample at the show I was clutching it like gold.

However before we get to the tasting bit, I had questions…… Admittedly ‘how do you milk a camel.’ is probably not going to win me a Pulitzer any day soon, but I was intrigued. I’ve ridden camels, I’ve seen them at the zoo, I don’t recall udders……the answer from the guy manning the stand was that they use the same process as cows. I didn’t like to ask too many more questions in case I sounded like some weird camel botherer but google tells me the answer to my question is ‘carefully’.

It seems that camels do have udders, but they aren’t obvious unless you’re underneath said camel – they’re also not struck on you touching them.One farmer says ‘they’re tickly round there’ and as such camel milking involves lots of grumpy camel noises and hoof avoidance. While it can be done by machine it’s normally done by hand with the average camel producing 5-6 litres a day .

My second question was ‘why is it so expensive?’ – a bottle of 500ml costs from £10.99 from Desert Farms, the distributor at the show –  and the answer is related to the above. Camels are hard to milk and don’t produce a huge amount of it when you do get them to agree. There’s also not that many ‘milky’ camels out there. Desert Farms have just six farms around Europe (and more in the US) and each farm ships their milk direct to the consumer once the order is placed so with a limited supply you’re not exactly working with great economies of scale when it comes to pricing.

So why do we need camel’s milk anyway – what’s different about it from the regular cow juice? Well I can safely say in terms of taste – not much. There was a difference but I couldn’t pinpoint specifically to say ‘oh it was more bitter, less creamy or sweeter’ – it was just a bit different. Aficionados though say it’s a bit more salty. Nutritionally it contains calcium and protein as per cow’s milk but has more vitamin C, iron, zinc and potassium and is lower in fat.

However it’s not the above that means people are happy for fork out more per ml for it than you pay for Prosecco. That’s because trials have shown some medical benefits to camel’s milk that don’t come from regular milk. Most interestingly camel’s milk contains molecules that act like insulin in the body which means it’s actually been trialed in the treatment of type 1 diabetes. In at least three studies giving camel milk to type 1 diabetics actually increased levels of insulin in the body, decreased levels of glucose in the blood and reduced the amount of medication they needed.  It’s now also being looked at as a potential treatment for type 2 diabetes too. Who knew?  Camel’s milk also contains slightly different proteins than cow’s milk and lower levels of lactose, as such camel’s milk can be tolerated in some people who can’t tolerate cow’s milk. As with anything allergy related though best check with your doctor before giving this one a try.

So now I know waaaay too much about camel’s milk than is ever going to be helpful in my life. It was fun finding out though. Now, wants to let me come milk a camel? And would you drink camel’s milk?

Note: Some camel’s milk can be bought raw – ie it has not been heat treated to kill bacteria. I’m not getting into the ‘is raw milk safe’? argument here – I’m just pointing out so you know to look for a pasteurized version if that’s what you’d prefer.


Image: this thing on? Talk to me, it's lonely down here

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