When a member of our team was in Mongolia a few years ago he stayed with a nomadic family in the Gobi Desert. Recalling their hospitality as second to none he found himself shielded from bitterly cold nights in their warm and colourful ger. Resources were few. The family owned camels and everything they ate and drank came solely from their livestock. During this stay he tried for the first time something he never thought he would – camel milk. He then tried it a second time, and a third. It was delicious. Sweet. A very welcome surprise indeed. His hosts, with beaming smiles and dark cracked skin, thought it was hilarious that he enjoyed it so much.
We’re not fortune tellers here at Thirst.Scot but don’t be surprised if you hear a lot more about camel milk over the next few years. As a natural pro-biotic it’s good for assisting healthy bacteria growth in the gut. It’s loaded with calcium and vitamin B1 as well as functioning as a great source of protein. Perfect for long days in an arid climate then. Where the interest lies for westerners though – aside from its ‘exotic’ appeal – is in camel milk’s potential as a medicine. Some parents of autistic children have claimed that after introducing camel milk into their child’s diet symptoms began to decrease. Eye contact was better. They expressed themselves more fully and finally had a good night’s sleep. Autism is only one of the various conditions which camel milk is rumoured to have had positive effects on. Hepatitis, diabetes, skin allergies – the list goes on.
In truth the situation is more complex. To make sense of it we have to forget about camel milk for a second and talk about good old fashioned cow’s milk. Cow’s milk, though quite frankly delicious, contains proteins which adversely effect the gut and thus inevitably create problems in the brain. Health experts have recommended that children with autism avoid it. They’re not talking about a life or death situation here but the effect of these partially digested proteins has been compared to that of opiates. Heavy.
Camel milk, on the other hand, does not contain these proteins. Writing for the website Daily Nation, clinical nutritionist Sona Parmar Mukherjee confirms this and says “Evidence suggests that camel milk highlights certain antibodies that may actually be of benefit to an autistic child”. She warns against promoting it as a miracle cure though. If you were to stop drinking wine in the morning and start having tea the fact that you weren’t drunk at the office wouldn’t mean tea is a gift from the gods. It would simply mean you’re sober. This same principle applies to the camel milk situation. “The benefits that are usually observed following the introduction of camel milk” says Mukherjee “can be achieved by simply removing certain offending foods from the child’s diet”. She doesn’t write off camel milk entirely, but she does recommend trying this before putting all your faith in it. “This way” she says “you can see if it has any notable effect”.
The jury’s out then. More research needs to be done. On top of that, there are already so many alternatives to cow’s milk that the camel milk market might never really take off. If it could be supplied at a competitive price, and if enough retailers took notice, we’d be more than happy to see it on the shelf. Until then, you have to accept the fact that a 500ml bottle averages out between £10 and £15. Yikes. To think a member of our team was given endless cups of this stuff for free in the middle of a desert.