It is amazing how much you can discover about a person’s culture through the foods that that they eat. On our last trip to Jordan I asked our guide, Ahmed if he liked camel’s milk but he looked at me askance and said that he never drank it. Then I ask him about his favorite meal and he immediately said Maklouba, a rice and meat casserole popular in the Middle East. His favorite version was with cauliflower (which he called white flower) but it is also made with fried eggplant slices and other seasonal vegetables. I knew he had to be Palestinian because Maklouba, which means to turn upside down, is very popular both with them and the Arab Israelis. Later on I asked Ali, another Jordanian guide, what he thought about camel’s milk and he couldn’t stop talking about its virtues. He described how a friend cured his stage three cancer, which had spread throughout his body, by drinking it fresh every day. Although he didn’t initially tell me, Ali had to be a Bedouin, because camels are an integral part of their heritage.
Jordanians as a whole, both the Palestinians and Bedouins, are very fond of yogurt, especially sheep or goat yogurt and eat it in a variety of ways. Sometimes they stabilize the yogurt with cornstarch or egg whites and use it their cooking, such as kibbeh in yogurt sauce. Other times they make a cold cucumber yogurt salad with dried mint and garlic, refreshing in the heat of the desert. In Israel, yogurt is made from goat or cow milk and recently I also tasted yogurt made from buffalo’s milk, which is much thicker and creamer. Seventy percent of the world’s population has some level of lactose intolerance and many do not even realize this. One natural method to reduce lactose in milk is to produce yogurt with it. This product is much more easily digested because the bacterium growing in the yogurt produces the enzyme lactase, which naturally degrades the lactose in the milk.
Prof. Reuven Yagil, from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, is trying to develop camel milk commercially to make it more widely available. Although camel milk has been found to have many curative powers, pasteurization destroys the health benefits of the milk. In fact, even though camel milk (or meat) is not kosher and forbidden by Jewish law, in some cases, Jewish religious authorities have allowed the consumption of camel’s milk as a medicinal food. To retain the medicinal properties of the camel milk while preserving its freshness, Prof. Yagil had the innovative idea to produce camel ice cream (gamalida in Hebrew) in 1999. EICMP (Emirates Industry for Camel Milk & Products) even makes a special date flavoured camel milk ice cream which was introduced during Ramadan. There are still many hurdles to establish camel milk farms in the United States because of laws requiring pasteurization. The FAO (The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation) is moving forward with interesting nontraditional uses for camel milk such as camel cheese, called camelbert and even camel milk chocolate. I have never tried camel milk but according to Ali it tastes sweet and is slightly saltier than cow’s milk.
In order to make sense of all these varieties of milk, I have made a table comparing four major sources, cow, camel, buffalo and goat. What I learned from this research is that many people find goat milk much easier to digest. I have always attributed this to lower lactose level and although this is true, it is not significant enough to make a difference. Apparently goat milk differs in fat and protein content and these differences create smaller fat molecules which have less of a tendency to aggregate. As a result goat milk is digested faster and the symptoms of lactose intolerance are reduced.
Buffalo milk is the most popular in India where it is made into the local cheese called paneer. In Italy, buffalo milk is made into yogurt and their famous mozzarella, which has a much finer texture than that made with cow milk. There is a small buffalo farm nearby which makes excellent mozzarella far superior to that made with cow milk. For those living in New England Bufala de Vermont diary is a good source of buffalo milk products.
Comparision of buffalo, camel, cow and goat milk
The levels of fat, protein and lactose listed in the table are approximate. These rates fluctuate between species and even when checked during different times with the same animal.
|Cholesterol||lower cholesterol than cow or goat milk||lower cholesterol than cow or goat milk|
|Vitamins and Minerals||Similar to cow’s milk, although higher in calcium||3 times higher in vitamin C than cow’s milk, 10 times higher in iron but less vitamin A and B2|
|Cross reactivity of milk protein||Some protein antibody cross-reactivity with goat and cow. One case of Buffalo milk tolerance when allergic to cow milk||Little or no cross-reactivity between cow and camel milk proteins. This indicates that those allergic to cow milk can drink camel milk.|
|Fat characteristic||Smaller molecules which don’t clump together like in cow’s milk. Contains lower levels of agglutinin compared to cow’s milk but has similar digestibility.||Does not contain enough agglutinin and therefore fat molecules do not clump together. Size of the fat molecules are similar to cows|
|Butter, cheese making||Traditionally used to make mozzarella in Italy, better color and texture, yogurt is thick and creamy||Does not contain sufficient agglutinin for efficient cream separation, Butter is made using a centrifuge, Cheese produced using camel rennet, vegetable rennet has been used with limited success. Easily made into yogurt|
|Health||Low in cholesterol, good source of nutrients such as calcium and other vitamins and minerals||Used to treat type 1 diabetes (contains insulin like molecules), strengthens cellular immune response, high in lactoferrin, which has antimicrobial activity, reduces allergic response in children|
|Problems||Contains lactose so may be a problem with those suffering with lactose intolerance||Contains lactose so may be a problem with those suffering with lactose intolerance, although better tolerated than cow’s milk|
|Flavor||Similar to cow milk||Sweeter than other milks|
|Cholesterol||Higher than buffalo or camel milk||Higher than buffalo or camel milk|
|Vitamins and Minerals||Higher fat and protein than human milk||Low in B6 and B12, higher in calcium than cow milk|
|Cross reactivity of milk protein||Casein antibody cross-reactivity with goat and cow. 2-3% infants allergic to milk proteins.||Similar casein structure to human milk and different from cow. Those allergic to cow milk might also be allergic to goat milk in about 25% of the cases|
|Fat characteristic||Needs to be homogenized otherwise fat rises to the top, large fat molecules have a tendency to clump||Larger number of small fat molecules than cow milk, Smaller softer curd, no cream formation. Does not contain agglutinin, so the fat molecules do not clump together. Believed to be the reason why it is easier to digest. more essential
fatty acids such as linoleic and arachnodonic , and higher medium chain fatty acids
|Butter, cheese making||Contains agglutinin, fat separates easily, butter made by churning, cheese is made using rennet||Lacks agglutinin, difficult to make butter by churning, many soft goat cheeses are made without rennet|
|Health||Good source of calcium and vitamin D||More easily digested because of smaller fat size and distribution characteristics. It is also alkaline. Better tolerated with those with lactose intolerance.|
|Problems||Linked to milk allergies and intolerance ranging from atopic dermatitis, diarrhea, and constipation.||Not appropriate for those who have severe lactose intolerance, although usually tolerated better than cow’s milk|
|Flavor||Flavor can be strong in comparison|
Interesting links and information:
Tolerance to Water Buffalo Milk in a Child with Cow Milk Allergy, Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2009 April; 102(4): 349. William J. Sheehan, MDab and Wanda Phipatanakul, MD, MSab
Camel milk as an adjuvant therapy for the treatment of type 1 diabetes: verification of a traditional ethnomedical practice. J Med Food. 2009 Apr;12(2):461-5, Mohamad RH, Zekry ZK, Sharawy SM
The Creaming Properties and Size Distribution of Fat Globules in Camel Milk, Z. FARAH, Institute of Food Science Swiss Federal Institute of Technology CH-8092 Zurich, Switzerland, M. RUEGG, Federal Dairy Research Institute CH-7 Liebefeld-Bern, Switrerland
Milk and Meat from the Camel, Handbook on Product and Processing by Zakaria Farah, Albert Fischer, Omar Abdulkadir Sh. Abdurahman