Camel milk is quite the novelty food in western diets, but one that is quickly gaining status as a functional food due to its apparently superior nutritional value compared to the readily consumed cow’s milk. Most of the benefits of camel milk stem from its higher content of certain vitamins and minerals, notably vitamin C, vitamin B12, iron, magnesium and potassium, as well as lower fat content compared to the default – cow’s milk (between 3.2 and 3.4 g of fat per 100 ml, whereas whole cow’s milk has 3.25 to 3.7 g of fat for the same amount).
Among its most appreciated properties is a lower lactose content, between 3.22 and 3.65 g of the sugar lactose per 100 ml. By comparison, whole cow’s milk has between 4.6 and 5.4 g of lactose per 100 ml, making camel a better choice for those with milder forms of lactose intolerance. Lastly, camel’s milk is missing two major proteins: beta-lactoglobulin and a beta-cassein. And this is a good thing seen that both of these proteins hold allergenic potential and are two of the biggest factors involved in allergic reactions to cow’s milk. As a result, the novelty dairy product is being considered as a substitute for people with milk allergies.
What does camel milk look and taste like?
The milk is fluid with an opaque, whitish color. If solids are high (11-12%), it may take on a more viscous consistency (primarily as a result of changes in diet/seasonal changes that impact food availability). Taste is faintly sweet, with a slight saltiness and, occasionally, sharp flavor notes. The fresh milk has a weak acidity, with a pH that is close to neutral (7). Actually, reports show camel milk pH is 6.63-6.64 to 6.57-6.97.
Camel milk nutrition facts per 100 ml/100 g
Fat: an average of 3.2 – 3.4 g of fat (can go as low as 1.8 g and as high as 5 g of fat)
Milk obtained during hot summer periods had a higher water content and a lower solids content, notably fat and protein. Fat profile stands out for its high unsaturated fatty acids content, especially good Omega-6 (linoleic acid) values.
Protein: an average of 2.9 – 3.2 g of protein (varies between 1.8 g and 3.5 g of protein)
– both whey proteins and cassein proteins
Lactose: an average of 3.2 to 3.6 g of lactose (varies between 2.4 and up to 4.3/5.3 g of lactose)
Vitamins and minerals
Vitamin A: 45 mcg (micrograms)
Vitamin B12: 123 mcg
Vitamin C: 98 mg to 117 mg (milligrams) – only in raw milk (unpasteurized, unfermented)
Calcium: 131 mg
Iron: 0.76 mg
Magnesium: 74 mg
Potassium: unspecified, except that it’s higher than in cow’s milk
Sodium: 67 mg
Other vitamins: vitamins B2, E and D, copper, phosphorus and zinc (exact amounts are unspecified, but noted as good, comparable to cow’s milk).
It’s important to understand there is great variability in the nutritional values of camel’s milk. The type of camel, geographical origin, age and state of health, diet, seasonal changes that impact food availability, hormonal changes, milk output as well as other factors affect the nutritional quality of the milk.
Camel milk benefits
1) Immune system-boosting properties: antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties derived from immunoglobulins and lactoferrin (proteins) and the enzyme lactoperoxidase.
2) Anti-tumor properties derived from the enzyme lactoperioxidase.
3) Lower allergenic potential. Has no beta-lactoglobulin and beta-cassein, the two proteins that trigger milk allergy. Considered as a good substitute for cow’s milk in children with milk allergy.
4) Food for the brain, supports brain development of children and cognitive abilities such as thinking, learning, memory (benefits stem from a high unsaturated fatty acids profile).
5) Typically lower in lactose than cow’s. Considered a better option for those with mild lactose intolerance.
6) Low glycemic food. The low sugar, but good protein and fat content contribute to stable blood sugar levels which is good for diabetes management.
7) Source of insulin. Studies report camel’s milk contains significant amounts of the hormone insulin and is believed to help with blood sugar control in diabetes. Some sources cite insulin-like proteins to be responsible for benefits in diabetics.
8) Helps with recovery from diarrhea caused by viral infections. Effects are owed to immuno-modulating proteins (example: immunoglobulins, lactoferrin) and enzymes (example: lysozyme, lactoperoxidase).
9) Combats dehydration. Given that it’s 88-91% water, it hydrates the body and has tonic properties.
10) Wholesome, nutritious food with energizing and restorative properties. Nourishes and provides satiating and lasting energy.
11) Fermented camel’s milk holds probiotic properties and helps restore and enrich good gut bacteria populations.
12) Natural remedy for stomach ulcers. With a low acidic activity, it has a restorative action on gastrointestinal mucosa.
13) Helps calm stomach aches and digestive upset caused by acidity.
14) Investigated for its therapeutic potential in Crohn’s disease and food allergies treatment.
Where can you get camel milk in the US?
You can buy camel milk in the USA from camel dairy farms. Although few, these exist and supply the milk to consumers, either directly or via retailers. It may be a good idea to first take a look at the dairy or health food section in your local supermarket or check out health food stores in your area. You can always talk to a manager or write to your local supermarket and ask if they could bring in food products by customer request. If they do, it may be a good idea to inquire about a time-frame as well, if they can provide you with one. Lastly, contact a few camel dairy farms and see if they supply the milk directly to consumers.
It’s important to know that this particular product cannot be outsourced and must be obtained from camel farms within the US. Chances are, there won’t be a camel dairy farm near you, but a quick search online will tell you which is the closest while a call or e-mail can tell you how you can get the milk from them. It’s also not very likely you’ll get fresh camel milk in the US since legislation is for pasteurized milk. And that’s okay since it means better food safety for you, the consumer. Outside of the US, you can find raw and fermented options. Large populations of domesticated camels exist throughout the Middle East, Central Asia and various parts of Africa.
The pasteurized milk is just as good from many points of view. However, know that pasteurization destroys most of the vitamin C as well as affects B vitamins too. But producers may fortify the milk with missing vitamins to bring it back to its original nutritional value and sometimes other nutrients too. Another major difference is that pasteurization means a loss of the natural probiotic properties of the product, which is a disadvantage of course, but one that is balanced out by better food safety.