Monday, May 8, 2017

Camel Hump Fat

I've eaten quite a variety of meat in my lifetime, and particularly over the last ten years, and camel meat is one of my favorites. One of the items on my wish list has been to try camel hump, which is primarily fat. 
Dromedary camels in Kenya. The wild camels in Australia where we get our camel meat from are also dromedary. 
Camel meat is much less fatty than beef. Camel meat averages 1.2% to 1.8% fat, while beef averages 4% to 8% fat. The reason for that is camel's are built differently than cows, or pigs or sheep, or other meat animals. Most of the fat in the camel is deposited in its hump. Many people believe that camels store water in their hump, or alternatively, that the fat in the camel hump provides water for the camel when it needs it. However, that is not the case. 

Camels are more efficient in handling water loss than other animals: first, they produce a very sparse and concentrated urine and very dry droppings; second, their bodies tolerate temperature rises to above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning they do not need to cool themselves by sweating or panting; third, they can lose 30% to 40% of their body weight in water loss and still continue to walk in the desert sun; and fourth, their large noses act in a way to reduce water loss when they breathe. When a camel drinks water, it can drink up to 20 gallons at a time, but they drink just enough to restore the normal water content in their bodies and do not store excess water in their hump.  

What the camel hump is is a food reserve. When food is scarce, the fat in the hump is degraded and used for nutrition. 

In a 2016 article in The Washington Post, camel meat is extolled as a good alternative to beef and other mainstays of the American diet. Anshu Pathak, owner of Exotic Meat Market, is referenced as a spokesman for camel meat. The article notes than Anshu gets his camels from wild camels in Australia that are an invasive species. He gets camel hump fat, when he can get it, and uses it in the production of camel and some other types of sausage, and even cooks with rendered camel fat when he can. 

The other day I was at Anshu's retail store in Grand Terrace, California. I told him that I would love to try camel hump fat if he ever got any in. He said that he had some and produced for me a vacuum sealed rounded package of camel fat. 
Package of camel hump fat.
I've been anxious to try cooking with it and found the opportunity this weekend. The camel fat is quite dense and does not break down and start to melt at room temperature, like I expected (at least for the relatively short amount of time I allowed it to sit out un-refrigerated). But when I put the fat in a hot skillet it melted down very quickly. 
A knife cut through the camel fat.
Camel fat in a skillet, quickly melting.
I cooked a meal of shishito peppers fried in camel fat; small baked potatoes baked, and then fried in camel fat; garlic cloves that were microwaved, then fried in camel fat; onions that were fried in camel fat; and elk ribs that were cooked sous vide, then fried for several minutes in camel fat. 
Shishito peppers fried in camel fat.
Elk rib chops, sous vided first, then fried in camel fat to give it outer texture.
Elk rib chops after frying.
A meal of elk rib chop, fried shishito peppers, fried onions, fried garlic cloves and baked, then fried potatoes.
I have to say that the camel fat was a bit too much for me. It was great on the elk ribs, but it was a little bit too thick on the fried vegetables, particularly as they cooled. So, for me, it will not be a substitute for olive oil or butter when frying vegetables. However, I will consider using it when frying meat for a couple of minutes after I having cooked it sous vide, to give it a nice outer texture.

2 comments:

  1. You just swept away all my illusions about camel humps. It's kind of disappointing. This line cracks me up: "I've been anxious to try cooking with it and found the opportunity this weekend." I think "the opportunity" was related to me being out of town. Yay! Freedom to cook a meal based on frying foods in fat! I did enjoy the little taste I got of the potatoes fried in camel hump fat. I thought they were quite good.

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  2. I learned a lot about camels in this post-from the fact that are an invasive species in Australia, to their humps being a food reserve. That's probably warning enough for me that camel fat is not going to be high on my list of likes.

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