If you think a gallon of low fat milk is expensive, then your jaw will really drop when you see how much organic camel milk costs.
It’s $18 for not a gallon, but merely a pint!
Since there are 8 pints in a gallon, that works out to be $144 per gallon. At least that’s the price seen at Erewhon, a natural foods grocer in Los Angeles (Venice location). The online pricing direct from the supplier – Santa Monica-based Desert Farms – was the same, with a minimum order size of 6 pints.
Surely, the health benefits of camel milk must justify the exorbitant price tag, right? Drinking it daily has been alleged to help with autism, controlling blood sugar in diabetes, kidney health, digestive disorders, and even being good for height!
Below, we dissect and review what scientific studies – if any – may exist for each of these purported advantages.
First though, let’s start with the more straightforward stuff…
Before looking past the label, let’s start with the basic nutritional values you will find posted on the bottle. Plus, let’s compare how they measure up versus goat milk and the old fashioned dairy version from a cow.
|Nutrition Facts For Camel vs. Goat vs. Regular Dairy Milk|
|Camel Milk||Goat Milk||Whole Cow Milk (3.25% Fat)|
|Serving Size||8 oz (240 mL)||8 oz (240 mL)||8 oz (240 mL)|
|Amount||% Daily Value*||Amount||% Daily Value*||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Calories from Fat||40||89||71|
|Thiamine (Vitamin B1)||70%||8%||7%|
|Niacin (Vitamin B3)||8%||3%||1%|
|Source||Desert Farms camel milk nutrition label||USDA National Nutrient Database, Release 28||USDA National Nutrient Database, Release 28|
|*Percent daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.|
Is camel milk better than cow milk? On a per ounce basis, it may beat on cholesterol and saturated fat, but is loser on protein, sodium, and vitamin D content. Overall, it could be considered a draw.
Plus, whole milk was used for the comparison. If skim or even 2% fat milk from a cow was used, the calories and lipid (fat) profile would look much more competitive.
Cholesterol is a fat, so when you reduce the fat, you’re also reducing how much cholesterol it has in it.
A cup of skim milk still has 8 grams of protein, but contains only 86 calories and 5mg of cholesterol… both of which are better than the exponentially more expensive camel milk.
How does camel stack up against the goat? As with conventional normal milk, the camel wins on many of the same criteria like calories and fats. Though once again, it is being measured against whole goat milk. If you were using a reduced fat version, they would look closer to being the same.
The difference between goat milk and cow milk is quite negligible. Overall their values do not differ much at all.
For bones, the calcium content for all 3 types is virtually the same.
You hear of it being popular for men seeking muscle growth. However for bodybuilding and athletes – regardless of gender – given its almost 40% lower protein content, you might conclude that camel may actually be the least desirable choice!
As we all know, the nutrition facts only provide a partial glimpse as to how healthy (or not) a given food actually is. It doesn’t provide data about phytonutrients and what side effects they seem to have on the body.
While it’s largely foreign here in the states, in northern Africa and the Middle East, it is a popular drink in some regions. A story published by the United Nations way back in 2006 has said (1):
“Somalis are gluttons for the stuff and firmly believe in the milk’s medicinal value.”
Somalia is the largest producer, churning out 1,100,000 metric tonnes annually. Followed by Kenya (937,000), Mali (242,911), Ethiopia (170,000), and Niger (105,000) (2).
That’s right – none of the top 5 producing countries are in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia comes in at 6th place, with only 1/10th the production of Somalia. Most of the world’s total production goes to feeding calves, rather than people.
Traditional uses for camel milk
Aside from being a beverage, there are a few historical uses. Please note that those involving medical healing properties and claims are unproven.
Aphrodisiac – The Gulf Arabs reportedly believe this, according to the aforementioned UN story.
Cheese production – Can you make cheese with camel milk? Yes you can and in Kazakhstan, they make one known as Kourt, which is as hard as Parmesan and typically served grated. Elsewhere not many have luck making cheese with it, because it does not coagulate very well (3).
Though a company in the far east African country of Mauritania has found a way to successfully make cheese from it and has been exporting it for at least a decade. The brand, Caravane cheese, is available for sale at a couple New York City shops (4).
Yogurt and kefir – Making either of these is much easier than cheese and hence, they are both more popular uses as a food. In the US, you would need to come up with a camel milk yogurt recipe and make it yourself since no one sells it. Often times, organic kefir is for sale at the stores which carry the milk.
Ayurveda medicine – For menstrual bleeding, this ancient Indian herbal medical system lists a drink called Kankayan Vati, which historically has been taken with a glass of camel milk (5). Though modern uses typically involve the much easier to get butter milk, from a cow.
How people are using it today
There are at least 20,000,000 camels in the world but only around 5,000 of those are located here in the United States. That fact, along with the raw organic milk’s limited shelf life versus a conventional cow source, is why this drink costs a whopping $9 per glass.
And apparently, given the growing popularity, enough people are willing to pay that.
Why? Perhaps its the health bloggers who are alleging it can help with diabetes and digestive diseases like Crohn’s disease, Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS), and leaky gut.
Using it for skin – topically – is another purpose. Aside from being a moisturizer, the vitamin and mineral content is claimed to be superior than that of a cow (6).
There’s been a lot of buzz about camel milk benefits for autism. The elevator pitch is that partially digested proteins in dairy milk are accused of damaging the gut, which in turn affects the brain in a manner similar to opiate drugs, purportedly. Camel sourced proteins don’t do that, or so they say.
Perhaps the most unusual claim is that you should drink camel milk to grow taller. For example, a 5’5″ 22 year old man on Yahoo Answers asked how to gain an inch or two. The “best answer” voted was that “u should take camel milk to grow your height” (7).
No camel milk available? No worries. They also claimed “running” was an alternative way of how to add inches. Apparently, it’s that simple to grow taller!
If running works, why are the track and field folks generally shorter than the basketball players?
What the science really says
Some things, like the belief that camel milk makes you taller, are a myth we can quickly cross off the list. No clinical studies are needed to evaluate that one!
That rumor appears to have originated in countries like India, where malnutrition can be more common.
There’s nothing special about milk – whether from cow, donkey, sheep, buffalo, almond, or the humped back animal – which can make you taller. Rather, it’s just proper nutrition which is needed during childhood and adolescence. Even then, your maximum stature is capped by your genetics.
Using the milk for women’s skincare because of its vitamin and mineral content seems like more of a gimmick, given that its thiamine (B1) amount is the only real outlier. It actually has less vitamin A and D versus unpasteurized goat or cow.
As far as it helping digestive disorders like IBS or Crohn’s, or being easier to digest for Celiacs and those with gluten sensitivities, are there clinical studies for that?
A search among the 26+ million medical citations on PubMed yielded only 10 clinical trials which involved the words “camel milk” and of those, two were for veterinary health, not humans.
The only relevant clinical trial to digestive disorders was from 2006 and published in Clinical Nutrition (8).
- Conducted in a randomized and double blind manner.
- 8 volunteers were given 450 mL (15.2 ounces) of camel or cow milk.
- After drinking, their gastric emptying rates were measured using a scintigraphic technique.
“No differences in gastric emptying rates were found between the two types of milk.”
The conclusion was that it’s “not a useful substitute” for those who may otherwise benefit from foods with shorter gastric emptying times.
If people with gluten allergies, IBS, or other digestive issues are benefiting from drinking camel, there is certainly not scientific proof to back those claims.
That being said, it does have less lactose versus cow, which means it might be easier to digest for those with a dairy sensitivity. But those who are lactose intolerant really should be avoiding milk and cheese entirely – eating less is still not healthy for them.
5 out of the 10 clinical trials were related to diabetes, which by far lends more credence to this topic versus all the other purported benefits.
The 2-year randomized clinical study involving 24 people with type 1 diabetes from 2011 was perhaps the most interesting (9).
Unlike type 2 diabetes, those with type 1 develop it in childhood not from obesity, but due to an autoimmune response where their body attacks and permanently destroys their pancreas. As a result, it produces little to no insulin for the remainder of their lives.
12 of the participants received 500 mL (16.9 ounces) daily of camel milk. The other 12 did not.
Those who got the milk experienced a decrease in blood glucose, HbA1c levels, and required less insulin (that’s the chart above). For 3 out of the 12, their insulin was “reduced to zero.”
Similar, albeit shorter, studies have had similar results.
The latter of which suggested how it works might be because it:
“…has many characteristics similar to insulin and it does not form coagulum in acidic environment.”
There has been only one study for type 2 diabetics, which are those who have developed the disease due to obesity, poor diet, and a sedentary lifestyle. There were 28 participants (12).
The researchers claimed it lowered fasting blood glucose, post-prandial glucose, and HbA1c levels.
“It shows hypoglycemic effect of camel milk reducing insulin resistance.”
Lastly, diabetic nephropathy was evaluated in a 2009 study in India (13).
It involved 24 type 1 diabetics and for those who received the milk for 6 months, microalbuminuria was improved. Whether this apparent diabetic benefit was because of the camel milk and insulin resistance, or another mechanism, was unknown.
Despite the hype, for kidneys and liver there are no human clinical trials suggesting a benefit. The closest thing was a study which involved diabetic rats, not humans (14). The findings did suggest an improvement in uric acid, urea, and creatinine levels. The rats receiving buffalo milk experienced the same, but to a lesser degree.
This is probably the most talked about, but there has been only one clinical trial for this condition.
Pediatric Research published the study in 2014 (15). The two researchers were:
- Department of Physiology, Autism Research and Treatment Center, Shaik AL-Amodi Autism Research Chair, Faculty of Medicine, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
- Division of Cognitive Neurology, Department of Neurology, Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School
Laila Y. Al-Ayadhi
- Department of Physiology, Autism Research and Treatment Center, Shaik AL-Amodi Autism Research Chair, Faculty of Medicine, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
How the study worked
- 45 children with autism spectrum disorder participated; 40 males and 5 females. None of them had previously used camel milk.
- Ages ranged from 2 to 12 years old.
- It was conducted in a double-blind and placebo-controlled manner.
- 15 received boiled/pasteurized camel milk.
- 15 received raw camel milk.
- 15 received a placebo version (from cows).
- People in each group took 500 mL of their respective milk type; 250 mL in the morning and 250 mL in the evening. This went on for 2 weeks.
The two metrics being evaluated before and after were:
- thymus and activation-regulated chemokine (TARC) serum levels
- childhood autism rating scale (CARS) score
“The serum levels of TARC decreased significantly (P = 0.004) in boiled CM [camel milk] and in raw CM group (P = 0.01) too, but no effect was observed (P = 0.68) in placebo group. Furthermore, significant improvements were observed in CARS score (P = 0.04) in raw CM group only.”
While this may seem like great news, it’s important to realize this is only a single study, without a large sample size, and it only lasted for 2 weeks.
As a mother of an autistic child you will want to believe it is a cure, or can improve the condition. However the fact is that this is not anywhere close to being enough research to know whether it works or not. As with diabetes too, the milk should not be viewed as a medical treatment.
While there are no clinical trials related to this topic, in 2017 Egyptian researchers proposed that it would be better than using whey protein from cow’s milk because the camel’s don’t have β-lactoglobulin, which they say is “the main cause of milk allergies in children.” That’s debatable, but it’s a discussion for another time. (16)
What does camel milk taste like? Given the price, one would hope its comparable to a fine bottle of wine!
The flavor of organic milk from camels has been described as being saltier than cow, with a slight hint of sweet vanilla which doesn’t hit your tongue until the end. It can have some texture, which some dislike.
If you like whole cow milk, you will probably like the taste as that’s what it is often compared to.
Is camel milk good for you?
Based solely on the nutrition facts, it’s hard to argue that it is significantly better or worse for you than other milks.
That being said, the preliminary diabetic research is very exciting. Likewise for autism, but that was even more preliminary given it’s only one study. It is far too early to draw any conclusions about it helping these diseases or others.
While it’s possible unique health benefits may exist for camel milk, there is just not enough research to know anything definitively. A lot more needs to be done and hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later.
And while it’s easy to poke fun at the price tag, in fairness it needs to be pointed out that the camels are grass fed on real pasture with no hormones used. To get all those things from a raw cow source, you’re also going to pay a small fortune, but of course not as much as this organic delicacy.
On a per ounce basis, its cost equates to being the same as a $29 bottle of wine. If you’re okay with that, then drink up!
Where can I buy it?
In the US, we can only speak for Los Angeles and seeing it for sale at Erewhon in Venice. We have not seen it at any Whole Foods locations in West or Central LA, but some of their stores in the suburbs and elsewhere in California sell it.
Entering 2017, only a peppering of retailers throughout the United States sell camel milk, or at least sell it from the main supplier who is Desert Farms. Here is a map which shows just how limited their retail distribution currently is.
With the exception of California, most states have no retailers. You can’t even find it for sale in Chicago.
For states that do sell it, often times it’s just one or two stores.
For example in Michigan, only Zerbo’s Health Foods in Livonia carries it. You would think someone in Ann Arbor would sell it, but nope.
Even in in New York, it’s only at 5 locations; 2 in NYC, 1 in Brooklyn, 1 in Long Island, 1 in Staten Island.
Be aware that not all states allow the sale of raw/unpasteurized. In the areas which do not, it will either not be for sale or it will not be for human consumption. Desert Farms does sell a pasteurized version, too.
Is raw milk healthier versus pasteurized? That conversation is a can of worms we will save for another time.
Camel Milk Victoria offers it for sale in Australia. Camelsmilk UK is a major seller in you guessed it… the United Kingdom. Desert Farms recently opened a London office to sell there, too.
Is Desert Farms’ brand USDA certified organic? No and they provide this as the reason:
“We work with family farmers who have been leaders in ‘organic’ agriculture from the very beginning before all the certifications came into place.”
As far as why they don’t get the seal, they say “With greater demand for this, we will be glad to make that investment.” Given that it’s a niche product and certification is expensive, it’s understandable why they haven’t pursued it yet.
No store nearby or don’t have time to drive to one? You can buy fresh raw camel milk on Amazon. It’s shipped using an insulated box with dried ice and ice packs.