Do you think camels are only useful for crossing the sand dunes – or as photo opportunities for tourists? Think again.
Camels have always offered much more to Arab society than simply a means of transport. They also provided their owners with meat, milk, clothes and more besides – and many of these other uses for “Bedu’s best friend” are increasingly coming back into fashion.
With the Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan Camel Festival running in Sweihan, Al Ain, until Thursday, Jessica Hill takes a look at some of the more unusual camel products.
When it comes to camel meat, the prime cut comes from the hump, where more fat means more flavour. Young camels are particularly prized. For the ultimate indulgence, a camel burger from Emirates Palace comes with truffle mayonnaise on a 23K gold-dusted bun. The burgers are accompanied by chickpea fritters, also dusted in gold, to add to the Instagrammable effect. It is available at Le Cafe, BBQ Al Qasr, Mezlai and pool bars from Dh110.
• Inside scoop Carmine Pecoraro, the executive sous chef at Emirates Palace, says he often gets requests for a whole roasted camel for local wedding parties. His kitchen's gigantic oven is big enough to fit in a full-sized Al Ain camel.
• Other options Several restaurants in the UAE tempt adventurous foodies with camel-meat delicacies on their menus. Fanr Restaurant at Manarat Al Saadiyat offers a popular spicy version, with yogurt sauce (Dh75). Switch in Dubai Mall has a double camel burger (Dh81), as well as camel bolognaise (Dh63) and camel sliders (Dh49). At Dubai's Cafe2go chain, you can try camel-burger meals (Dh25), plus a camel hot dog, camel fajita and camel salami.
Cleopatra might have seen a good thing when she bathed in donkey's milk as a beauty aid. The milk of donkeys, like camels, is rich in alpha-hydroxy acids, which plump the skin and smooth fine lines. It also has three times as much vitamin C as cow's milk, which is important for tissue repair. The Camel Soap Factory began six years ago when Briton Stevi Lowmass started making soap in the kitchen of her Dubai Lakes villa. Now, 15,000 bars are produced every month from a factory in Al Quoz. They cost Dh30 to Dh70 from www.thecamelsoapfactory.com.
“We started with a range of simple Castile soaps made with olive oil, which remain our bestsellers,” she says. “We’ve subsequently brought out other ranges with different oil combinations, all with a minimum of 25 per cent camel milk.”
The soaps are made using a centuries-old technique called cold process soapmaking, in which oils and camel milk are mixed in huge buckets.
• Inside scoop Lowmass also makes a camel-milk soap for dogs with sensitive skin, called Dirty Dawg's Delight. We're told that at least one customer uses it to wash camels.
• Other options Dubai dairy Camelicious will launch a range of camel-milk skincare products this month. Korean brand Neogen's camel-milk white volume face cream (Dh994 for 120ml at www.desertcart.ae) claims to brighten the skin, using camel milk and plant-seed oils.
You, too, can experience luscious camel lips with the new range of camel lip balms, another range from The Camel Soap Factory, made using powdered camel milk. They come in sweet orange, peppermint and strawberry flavours and cost Dh25.
• Other options US business www.cameldairy.com sells camel-milk lip treatments (Dh14 plus delivery), as well as camel-milk bath bombs, serums and lotion.
It is Valentine's Day tomorrow, and there are few sweeter ways of letting that special someone know how much they mean to you than by giving them some camel-milk chocolates. Al Nassma, a Dubai-based company, stocks a range of chocolate bars, pralines and "camel caravans" – rows of dinky miniature chocolate camels filled with macadamia nuts and honey. The company's most popular product is a hollow chocolate camel. Visit www.al-nasma.com for more details.
• Inside scoop We particularly recommend Al Nassma's deliciously creamy chocolate bars with dates, available for Dh29 from Café Arabia in Abu Dhabi and other sellers.
Designers Rahul and Rachna Malkani’s Native Dubai handbag line includes bags crafted from the hide of local camels. Prices start at Dh3,650.
“When we mixed them with exotic hand-painted python skins they became our bestsellers,” says Rahul. He says camel skin has a better tear strength than cow, making it more resilient – but there are downsides.
“Since they’re smaller animals than cows in their belly and back areas, which are used for making leather goods, the cutting yield is much smaller.” The bags are available from www.nativedubaionline.com, and at the House of Native store on Jumeirah Beach Road.
• Inside scoop It is not easy working with camel skins, says Rahul, as they usually roam in the wild, and so the skins have a lot of marks on them.
• Other options At the Women's Handicraft Centre on Karama Street in Abu Dhabi, you can buy camel-skin bags handcrafted the traditional Bedouin way.
Al Khaznah tannery in Abu Dhabi produces camel leather used in a variety of products, including Pierre Corthay's arca leather men's shoes (Dh6,816 from www.lyst.com).
Fresh camel’s milk from Camelicious and Al Ain Dairy is available in most supermarkets. It is touted as the next big superfood, with Kim Kardashian spotted enjoying a glass. Nutritionally, it might have the edge over cow’s milk, according to Abu Dhabi nutritionist Yara Radwan.
“It’s closer to human milk than cow’s milk and is slightly lower in fat and saturated fat,” she says. “Although camel milk and cow’s milk are similar in calories and protein, the protein structure in camel milk might be well tolerated by people who have dairy allergies. Camel’s milk may also reduce blood glucose in diabetics.”
Some believe it might have a positive effect on autism, too, but Radwan cautions that more research is needed on this.
Dubai-based Australian food blogger Sarah Walton (www.thehedonista.com) says she sometimes uses camel milk in her cooking.
“It partners well with savoury or sweet flavours,” she says. “Despite the low fat content, it’s deceptively creamy. Some say the flavour is salty – I don’t think that’s entirely correct. It’s buttery, and has a very mild barnyardy nuance, which is similar to goat’s milk.”
Flavoured milk is also available. Camelicious offers date, chocolate, strawberry and saffron-flavoured milk, and six flavours of camel-milk ice cream. This month, the company will also launch three types of camel-milk family drinks (for babies, women and men), as well as camel-milk energy drinks. Nutritionist Radwan warns that the extra sugar and additives in flavoured milk might cancel out any health benefits.
• Inside scoop Camel milk requires more intense labour to collect than cows milk, as each camel produces only about 7 litres of milk a day. A "super cow", in comparison, can produce up to 35 litres a day.
• Other options Camelait, a subsidiary of Al Ain Dairy, makes milk in saffron, rose, date, cardamom and chocolate flavours (Dh4).
The White Gold cheese range, from Camelicious (from Dh39 for 200g), includes Nabulsi, with caraway seeds, akkawi, a soft, unripened cheese with a smooth texture and a salty taste, and traditional white cheese that resembles cottage cheese.
• Other options Camelicious offers other fermented camel-milk products, including laban, ghee (in a sleek glass jar), butter, and mint and chilli-flavoured labneh.
There was a time when most trinkets and jewellery in the UAE were made using camel bone and teeth. Carving is still carried out in some parts of the world, including Pakistan, Rajasthan and Iran. Sharjah-based online store www.craftihouse.com has Persian handicrafts painstakingly carved from camel bone, including ornately painted vintage pen holders (Dh220), miniature jewellery boxes (Dh129), khol tube and stick set (Dh73).
• Inside scoop Camel bone has to be cleaned and boiled before it can be carved. The knee bone is the most commonly used.
• Other options As well as bone, camel's teeth can be used for decorative purposes, and www.pebbleslondon.com, which specialises in tribal accessories, has a cream camel's teeth and blue glass beads necklace (Dh848, plus Dh68 for international delivery) .
Several cafes offering camel-milk coffees. Emirates Palace’s camelccino costs Dh50 in the Caviar Bar and Le Café, aired with a piece of camel milk chocolate and dates. • Other options At the Majlis in Dubai Mall, you can indulge in a camellatte, camel milkshake (Dh26), mini muffins in plain, pistachio, macadamia and chocolate flavours (Dh6), and eclairs (Dh6), all made with camel milk. Order a Middle Eastern afternoon tea (Dh38) and you can try a camel mortadella sandwich.