Camel milk: Could ’ships of the desert’ present an alternative future for those with dairy intolerance?

While the benefits of camel milk have been known across Africa, the Middle East and Asia for centuries, research suggests it may offer a viable alternative to dairy as westerners eye ‘new superfood’.

Camel milk has long been viewed as the ‘elixir of life’ for many people in the desert regions of the world. But in recent years interest has surged as a new group of consumers seek to benefit from its potential health benefits.

Those rearing the ‘ships of the desert’ had seemingly kept this to themselves for centuries, but as western consumers continue to seek out super foods and new sources of vitamins, proteins and minerals, camel milk’s stock as risen notably. This has been further exacerbated in recent months by Covid-19 and the global pandemic, as people place a ‘greater focus’ on immunity boosting products.

Naturally low in cholesterol and sugar, research also points to camel milk having the capacity to tackle other issues such as food and seasonal allergies, as well as reducing dependency on insulin for the treatment of diabetes. Also for those allergic or intolerant to cow milk proteins and lactose, it’s seen as a viable alternative.

A research paper published in 2016, suggested benefits can go much further though. A review of 24 studies on human and animal trials found that consumption of camel milk helped in cases of diabetes, cancer, colitis, Salmonella infections, heavy metal and alcohol-induced toxicity, and autism.

But perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the milk is extremely high in vitamin C, minerals and immunoglobulins which boost the immune system.

Interestingly, camels are said to feed on at least 36 different varieties of plants, many of which are used in Ayurvedic medicine. According to ‘Camel Karma’, these produce a highly nutritious milk which is rich in lactoferrin and able to prevent viral and bacterial infections on the back of its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Similarly, the Australian Camel Industry Association suggests nutrients within camel milk have five times the vitamin C and 10 times the iron when compared to cow’s milk. However, although researchers found levels of sodium, potassium, zinc, iron, copper, manganese, niacin and Vitamin C were higher than in cows milk, levels of thiamin, riboflavin, folacin, vitamin Bt12, pantothenic acid, vitamin A, lysine and tryptophan were all relatively lower.

Even so, there are those who believe that camel milk can go on to become ‘the world’s next superfood’, providing a further option for those with concerns around cattle ranching and its effects on climate change.

With an estimated 200m potential customers in the Arab world and millions more in Africa, Europe and the Americas, the potential is there.