Friday, March 25, 2016

Camel Milk

We visited the Erg Chebbi Dunes in eastern Morocco, just inside the western border of the Sahara Desert, after crossing over the Middle Atlas Mountains from Fez, an approximate 8 hour journey by car. After spending two nights in a luxury desert tent camp and a full day in and around the sand dunes,  Aziz, our driver, was taking us again back toward the Middle Atlas Mountains to our next destination of Skoura. I reminded Aziz that we wanted to stop for camel's milk. We'd passed several places that sell camel's milk in Rissani on our way in.  Aziz passed at least one place selling camel milk before pulling up in front of a walled compound with an open gate. A sign advertising camel milk was placed in the dirt right next to the road outside the compound. We got out of the car and started walking toward a large tent inside the compound which was open on one side. 
"Le lait de chamelle" is "camel milk" in French. I'm assuming that the Arabic writing says the same thing.  
The large tent inside the compound. The Berbers who own this place keep the camels at the back end just barely visible to the back left. They also raise goats that they let loose out of their enclosure so that Judy and I could see them.
We walked into the tent and found several Berber men seated on cushions placed on carpets that covered the ground. Aziz spoke to the men in Arabic or Berber, and then motioned for us to sit at a small round table inside the tent. The table was covered with a colorful yellow and black cloth. An older man disappeared for a minute or two and then reappeared holding a 1.5 liter plastic bottle full of milk and a silver tray with empty glasses. He placed three empty glasses on the table, right-side up, then poured milk into each glass, nearly to the top. I wondered if drinking the milk would make us get sick. The plastic bottle was obviously used and the glasses did not look particularly clean. But I couldn't pass up an opportunity to try camel milk.  
Camel milk inside the 1.5 liter bottle. Another Berber man in the background is pouring himself some tea. 
I took some pictures. The milk looked a little frothy. I took a sip and was surprised to find the milk nice and cool. It had a slightly sweet taste and I commented that it tasted like a cross between skim and whole milk. The texture was more like skim milk, more watery than whole milk, but the milk fat was noticeable and good. I had no problem drinking down the glass and the man, through Aziz, asked us if we wanted more. He poured more into each glass, about one-quarter full. We drank it and then declined any more - we did not want to take the remaining milk with us. 
My glass of camel milk.
Through Aziz we asked the man about his camels. His camels were out foraging for plants in the desert at that moment. They were able to get as much as 5 liters of milk from each camel each day. The milk we'd drunk had not been heated or pasteurized. He sold his milk to far away towns, including Marrakech and Fes on the other side of the Atlas Mountains. He also raised goats which he sold outside the area as well. Through Aziz the man asked us if we would like to see his baby goats and we responded affirmatively. This got us out of the tent so that presumably Aziz could be left alone with the other men to collect his commission for bringing tourists to the compound for milk. We paid 100 dirhams for the milk, about $10 U.S. dollars, a steep price in a country where a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice is sold for the U.S. equivalent of 40 cents a glass. I gladly paid the amount. I would not have been surprised if they'd asked for more. I would have been thrilled at even double the price. 
Two camels we saw in the nearby Erg Chebbi Dunes.
Another camel we saw in the dunes. 
After we visited the goat pen and the empty camel pen, we got back in our car with Aziz, who was surely a little bit richer after this act of commerce. Life in Morocco is hard and we found the people to be very enterprising and creative in their efforts to earn money. Judy whispered to me that they'd made a killing on the $10.00 milk sale and I agreed, but was still very happy with the experience.

As I look on-line at camel milk in the U.S., I find that we got a pretty good deal. Desert Farms, which sells camel milk from camels raised in Amish communities in the Midwest, sells 8 ounce cartons for $10.00 with a minimum order of $60.00 (48 ounces). We got about five times that amount for our $10.00 in Morocco. An article on camel milk in Wikipedia indicates that until recently it was a felony to sell camel milk in the U.S., although an individual owner of a camel could consume the milk. Now, apparently, farms can sell it to customers who buy it directly, but it must be tested for antibiotic residue if it crosses state lines or is commercially sold in stores. Camel milk has more fat, protein, vitamin C and iron than cow milk, but less cholesterol, vitamin A and B2. Some camels in other parts of the world can produce as much as 30 to 40 liters of milk daily. 

8 comments:

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  2. Who knows what diseases we'll have in the future due to our reckless consumption of odd foods during our travels. I have to admit, however, that this milk was delicious and tasted downright healthy. Note that the sign shows only one man milking the camel, but we were told the process required two: one to milk and one to hold the container.

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  3. I hope future posts report on the camel cheese you tried or (even better) the camel milk chocolate you consumed. I'm looking forward to all your upcoming posts about this trip!

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  5. Your journey reminds me of my 7-day trip to Niger before 9/11, something that's no longer possible today alas.

    Some clarification about camel milk fat.
    The Bactrian (two-humped) camel milk is the one that may have more fat than cow milk.
    The one-humped camel, also called Dromedary or Arabian camel, is mostly found in the Arabian peninsula and Maghreb countries like Morocco, and produces a milk that's lower in fat. The camel milk you drunk was lower (not higher) in fat than cow's milk, which is why it felt "watery".

    Last, congrats for having enough guts to drink such milk! Based on your description of the milk (frothy), it was raw. FYI: the MERS virus is found in raw camel milk.

    Bravo for your open-mindedness and adventurous spirit. That means that if you ever visit Dubai, you will not hesitate to try our camel milk ice cream - made of whole *pasteurized* milk of course ;)

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