But at up to $24 a litre for fresh milk and more for powders, camel milk is expensive.
“It’s more for individuals who have a reason to drink camel milk,” said Megan Williams, the co-owner of the award-winning Camel Milk Co in the Goulburn River Valley in Victoria. “I don’t think it’ll ever be as popular as regular bovine milk.”
Michelle Phillips, co-owner of Piercefield Pastures and Camel Milk NSW in the Hunter Valley, became interested in camel milk when researching how to help her son who has Asperger’s Syndrome. Some studies suggest it can help children on the autism spectrum, although the evidence is inconclusive.
“I discovered a whole world out there that I never knew existed,” Ms Phillips said. “A lot more people are getting into it for its medicinal qualities and health qualities.”
Compared with regular dairy, camel milk is higher in protein, lower in fat and contains more of some vitamins and minerals. It also contains a natural bacteria that survives pasteurisation and is good for gut health.
Studies suggest many people who cannot drink cow milk can drink camel milk because it has 25 to 30 per cent less lactose and does not contain common allergens, such as the whey protein ‘beta lactoglobulin’ and A1 casein protein. It is also favoured by people with type 2 diabetes because it contains a natural insulin.
Ms Williams said her first customers were people from Middle Eastern backgrounds who had cultural familiarity with camel milk but a “huge shift” in the market meant her products were now also selling in boutique stores, fine grocers and even gyms – albeit with a dip in sales because of the coronavirus lockdown.
“A lot of the gym enthusiasts who work out then have those high protein drinks, rather than mixing their whey powders and everything, they’ve just turned to straight camel milk,” she said.
Ms Williams said camel milk costs more to produce because the animals require just as much food as cattle but produce much less milk. Most camel farmers keep the babies with their mothers until they wean naturally, which increases costs.
Grand View Research estimates the global camel milk market was worth an $US10.2 billion ($14.4 billion) in 2019 and is growing rapidly. Camel milk is now included in activities to promote milk conducted by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Summer Land Camels managing director Jeff Flood, who has about 500 camels on his farm in south-east Queensland, said camels could thrive in hot, dry conditions. “In a climate-challenged future, camels are the way forward,” he said.
Most camel farmers in Australia start their herds by capturing wild camels from the outback or rescuing culled animals destined for an abattoir, helping control a feral population that is increasing about 8 per cent a year.
AgriFutures Australia estimates the local camel milk industry produced about 180,000 litres in 2019, up from 50,000 three years ago. Globally most camel milk production is in the Middle East and North Africa but Australian farmers have a strategic advantage because our camels are free of a disease common elsewhere.
The export prospects also look promising, especially to East Asia where lactose intolerance is common.
Caitlin Fitzsimmons is a senior writer for The Sun-Herald, focusing on social affairs.