IT IS a popular beverage in the Middle East, where it is drunk for its nutritional value and a range of medicinal purposes.
But camel milk is now proving a big hit with Scottish health food fanatics – consumers north of the Border bought more of the drink in the first week of it going on sale than those living in any other region of the UK.
Priced at up to £19 for half a litre, the unusual drink costs roughly the same as a good bottle of supermarket champagne.
However, sellers of the product, which recently launched in Britain for the first time, say demand has been growing as consumers become aware of the milk’s reported health benefits.
Online retailer MuscleFood.com, which last week launched its drink – produced at a camel farm in Holland – said around 450 bottles have already been sold, with a quarter of the orders coming from Scotland.
American camel milk manufacturer Desert Farms, which started selling European camel milk in Britain last month, said its first UK orders came from Scotland, with around 20 per cent of subsequent shipments sent to camel milk fans north of the Border.
It’s packed with the essential vitamins and minerals we all need
Camel milk, used medicinally for centuries by nomadic and Bedouin people, is believed to be the closest alternative to human breast milk and contains ten times more iron and three times more vitamin C than cow milk.
In the Middle East, the camel milk industry is booming, with camel milk chocolate and chocolate and strawberry flavoured versions of the product now available in places including Abu Dhabi, where one five-star hotel hired a “camel milk mixologist” to create non-alcoholic cocktails using the milk. In neighbouring Dubai, one of the emirate’s biggest cafe chains sells camel milk lattes.
Darren Beale, from MuscleFood.com, said: “Camel’s milk is an unusual product and with 12,000 cows to every camel in Europe that’s hardly surprising. But the health benefits of drinking camel milk over cow’s milk are huge – it’s packed with the essential vitamins and minerals we all need for a healthy diet and it’s a rich source of protein.”
He added: “They say Scots are only into fried food and haggis but this new health craze is taking the tartan nation by storm.”
Haytam Abdelmouttalib, director of UK operations at Desert Farms, said the firm had sold around 50 orders each over the past month, containing a minimum order of seven bottles.
“We didn’t expect it to be such a big hit back in the US, but it has really taken off there. Most people have initially never heard of it and are surprised about the health benefits.” He added: “We don’t promote it specifically as a medicine but there are more and more studies which have shown it can be very beneficial for a range of conditions.”
Some studies have claimed that conditions such as autism can be improved through drinking camel milk, although these have so far been on a small scale.
Camel milk contains a different “casein” protein to that found in cow’s milk, which is why it is thought to be suitable for people who are lactose intolerant. It has become popular in America in recent years, where farms boast an imported camel population of around 5,000.
Sarah Stelling, nutritionist at the Edinburgh Centre of Nutrition and Therapy, said: “I’ve not recommended it to people personally, but I have had customers who have had it. It has different proteins in it and has a lower allergenic profile than cow’s milk.”
Nutritionist Natasha Alonzi, of Arcobaleno nutritional therapy in Edinburgh, said: “These fads are just fads. Stick to the broccoli.”
Taste test: Sour and quite salty, but makes a nice latte
“Delivered fresh from the camel farm this morning”, the cheerful Filipina barista assures me as she froths up a batch for a latte, in a cafe just off Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road.
The freshness is not in doubt, but whether I will be a convert might be.
Sour and quite salty, camel milk is quite a departure from the regular cow variety – especially when drunk neat.
The barista nods encouragingly as I try a tepid cupful, before moving on to the latte.
The salty tang contrasts with the sweetness of bottled, supermarket milk sold in Europe. But it has a natural taste, perhaps a little less processed.
With two shots of coffee poured in, the milk still has quite a sourness. One, then two sugars fails to take the edge off.
The aftertaste lingers for some time, but it is light as a drink. I read before that some camel milk tastes sweet, but not this batch, delivered from Al Ain, the United Arab Emirates’ garden city, where the country’s farms are located.
“Tangy, I quite like it”, says friend and fellow Brit expat Claire Dalby, 34, an ad sales manager, who is also trying it.
“It’s quite distinctive. I thought it was going to be really sweet but it’s quite the opposite.”
Local chain Cafe2Go has embraced camel milk and says it has converted plenty of regular coffee drinkers.
Cartoon camel cutouts stand on the pavement outside and the health benefits are listed on posters on every wall – and there are plenty.
Camel milk has ten times the amount of iron as cow milk and three times the vitamin C, so if you’ve been skipping your morning orange juice lately this might be an alternative.
“The health benefits would make me consider it, but I’m not sure you’re supposed to put that much sugar in,” Dalby tells me as I stir another in.
The barista adds: “It’s very popular among the local Emiratis, the Chinese and quite popular with Japanese too. They like the distinct flavour, how it’s not too sweet.” I’m told the store sells a range of camel products, and that camel meat burgers are popular.
So if the Scots don’t take the hump with camel milk, perhaps that could be next on the menu.