Camels have long played an important role in the UAE heritage and culture; providing much-needed nutrients to the country’s inhabitants and as a valuable means of transportation. Camelicious, a company set up by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, recently was given the green light to export camel milk products to Europe. Joanna Andrews took a drive through the desert to find out more.
The Camelicious dairy farm is situated on the outskirts of Dubai. The company was set up in 2006 by HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. It is the world’s first dedicated and regulated camel milk factory - and is another prime example of how innovate the ruler is.
The vast premises consist of a camel farm, a milking parlour with modern, specifically designed technology, a processing plant, a breeding centre and a chocolate shop. But it’s not just about world-class facilities; the farm prides itself on raising its stock with a holistic approach.
“The camels are our assets. It is a top priority that they are healthy and happy,” says Dr Jutka Juhasz, the Chief Veterinarian at the farm. “Our main focus is for animal welfare; a happy, healthy animal will have a long production life.”
Camelicious, which is owned by the Emirates Industry for Camel Milk and Products, recently got a stamp of approval from the European Union (EU) to export camel milk products across the 27 nation bloc. But it wasn’t an easy task; it took several years to get the green light.
“It was a five or six year struggle, says Dr Peter Nagy, the farm manager. “We focus on quality. We are not only keeping the animals in the best possible way, but we ensure all hygienic measures are very thorough. We train all our staff and as a result we had an ISO certification.”
The company will ship powdered milk to pharmaceutical companies for use in medicines as well as to cosmetic makers.
“We are targeting B-2-B; we are not going directly to the consumer. We are teaming up with established companies to make products derived from camel’s milk for the European market,” adds Mutasher Al Badry, BDM & Deputy General Manager. “We are targeting the functional food market; for probiotics and immune boosters,” "The powder is being developed into syrup to be used for a stomach bacterium called H. pylori and as a cream for acne treatment. Camel milk is rich in lanoline, which is good for the skin,” he adds. “And we are targeting big universities to do more research on the benefits of camel milkbased products.”
For thousands of years camel’s milk has been known for its many health properties. But it is believed there are many unknown benefits too – with widespread belief it could treat some chronic diseases.
“What is proven is that camel’s milk is high in vitamin C, low in fat, low in cholesterol and more digestible than cow’s milk,” Nagy says. “There is a belief that camel milk has a miraculous effect and they often refer to it as white gold”.
Since conquering Europe, Camelicious is striking agreements in parts of Asia, South Africa, Canada and the US. However, current production won’t be enough to reach all those markets.
Dr Nagy says, “The average camel produces about seven to eight litres of milk a day - lower than a high yield dairy cow which can produce 30 to 40 litres of milk.” They are fed a vegetarian diet of wheat or hay; but are given plenty of carrots for treats.
As with many of HH Sheikh Mohammed’s plans, there is a rapid growth plan for the company. Currently, there are nearly 3,000 dromedary camels on the farm (Arabian camels with one hump). But over the next 24 months they aim to double that number.
There is a natural breeding process in place, says Dr Juhasz. “We do not apply artificial insemination as the technique is still in an experimental phase in camels. However, we have a modern, assisted reproductive programme.”
For the best-producing animals they have an embryo transfer program in place where the best females are paired with the best bulls. “The offspring, the little embryos, are taken away from the mother on day seven and we put them in the non-valuable animals which are the low producing animals.”
She continues, “This helps us produce a very valuable stud, a genetic pool, which will be more valuable in the coming years.”
AN ACQUIRED TASTE
“What does it taste like?” I ask Nagy, only to be told, “Try it, and you tell me?” Feeling brave he hands me an ice-cold cup of the extremely white liquid. I take a small sip and am pleasantly surprised. It tastes no different to milk. It is sweet, creamy and very palatable.
For purely the health benefits that are known and the possibility of many more, I challenge you to give it a try!
And if you don’t have the stomach for the “white gold”, maybe you should try its chocolate brand, Al Nassma, which is about to take European and Asian markets by storm.