With Heather Mills McCartney leading a campaign to persuade drinkers of cow's milk to switch to soya, and the UN promoting the superior health benefits of camel's milk, the Magazine's Finlo Rohrer tastes some alternatives.
The way the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) tells it, a glass of camel milk is a health regime in its own right. Rich in vitamins B and C and with 10 times the iron that's found in cow's milk, it wants camel milk to be as popular in western countries as it is in north Africa and the Middle East.
Cow's is not the only milk
The milk is not easily obtainable in the UK and judging by its full-on taste, we're not likely to be seeing Britain's bovine stocks replaced with these desert-loving creatures any time soon.
Camel milk, at least the one I try, is a little on the smoky side. Actually smoky doesn't really do it justice. The taste is akin to walking through a burnt-out building, eating a smoked ham and smoked cheese sandwich. It's the kind of thing that possibly might appeal to Germans, but you really can't imagine putting it on your cornflakes.
Smoking camel milk is apparently common in some countries and at the bottom of the bottle there are tiny dark particles, burnt wood from the smoking process. But other than that it looks much like cow milk. Mentally take away the smokiness, and the only major difference is a slight salty note.
It falls into that category of acquired taste. Judge it on the first tasting and one would run a mile but there's no arguing with the tens of millions across Africa and the Middle East who regard it as the king of milks.
And the FAO speaks highly of its health benefits, with vitamin C three times that of cow's milk, and unsaturated fatty acids, iron and B vitamins all present in large amounts.
Milking is usually done on one leg and is not easy
An Ethiopian aficionado warns that newcomers to camel milk should go easy at first, suggesting that glugging back a large amount at the first go can produce a feeling akin to "some form of electric shock". It is renowned as a treatment for constipation and those encountering it for the first time might be alarmed by the digestive effects if they consume too much.
Those travelling to Ethiopia to try the milk should probably head for Bulale, he suggests, where it is slightly saltier but believed to be high quality because of the health of camels there. Tourists should also try ciir, the popular yoghurt form.
And it's worth knowing that anyone wanting to milk a camel should have a fairly good sense of balance (and humour). The usual method involves standing on one leg, balancing a bowl on the knee of the other, and using both hands to milk.
GOAT MILK SEMI-SKIMMED
Goat milk is now available in many supermarkets and is even packaged in a similar way to cow milk. Its smell is not dissimilar to a pint of semi-skimmed and in appearance, it would be very hard to differentiate. There's a certain fullness in the taste, but it's nowhere near as powerfully different as goat's cheese is to cow's cheese.
Goat milk: You can't bleat it
Frankly, you could whack this on your breakfast cereal and not even notice.
This looks a little like a shot of Bailey's or some more exotic dairy-based spirit that your gran might drink. The smell reminds me a little of the strange chemical cream you get in cheap cakes.
Milk, from this? Ms Mills McCartney is a fan
Go back 20 years and soya substitute used to taste awful, but it has made massive leaps and bounds. Now it just tastes plain odd. It is flat, watery, overly sweet, with a distinct cardboardy after-taste. I'd as soon have this on my cornflakes as I would douse them in Benylin. There's a good reason why it can't be called milk.
For something that is 97% cow's milk, where the only real difference is the absence of lactose, this concoction is surprisingly unpleasant. It's really not a great deal better than the soya.
It tastes overly sweet and overly flat.
POSH COW'S MILK
The control group. Despite being squeezed out of udders belonging to Prince Charles, this Duchy Originals milk really doesn't seem to taste radically different from its cheaper counterparts. It's nice, but it doesn't exactly make you jump out of your chair yelling "moo".
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
This was an interesting article to read but I can't help to wonder that it isn't biased... after all, the author has been drinking cow milk all their life I assume! I switched to soy milk about four years ago for a variety of reasons and I quite like the taste. God forbid I run out and have to use a splash of dairy on my cereal because the taste of cow milk is really quite disgusting--skim is tolerable, but whole milk (which I grew up drinking) makes me literally gag. The only fair judge of these versions of milk would be someone who doesn't have a habit toward any of them! "Cardboardy after-taste"? Please. At least there's no measurable pus content in soya. (Around 12% in Florida milk!)
Anna, Orlando USA
We used to drink our own goat's milk. It is virtually identical to semi-skimmed cows milk and after having it for a couple of days no-one would notice the difference.
Rick, Didcot, UK
I have seen Rice & Oat varieties of milk substitutes, has anyone tried them?
Michael Pearce, UK
One of the nicest and most memorable birthday presents I have ever received was 4 pints of milk, squoze that very morning from a very happy cow on a local farm. Unpasteurised, non-homogenised with a 2 inch thick layer of almost solid cream on top. I almost fell over when I tasted it. That's what milk's meant to be like. You know what you can do with the bean juice.
Lois, UK ex pat, Germany
I switched to soya milk three or four years ago - for ethical and health reasons - and I have to say, I by far prefer the taste of soya to cow's milk. If I have to drink 'moo juice' now for any reason, to me it tastes and smells utterly RANCID!!
So where's the rice 'milk' and oat 'milk'? I buy both of these regularly as a subitute to dairy.
Add buffalo milk to the list. It's very rich and creamy, with higher protein and vitamins and lower cholesterol than cows milk. It is suitable for those with lactose intolerance and allergy to cows milk, and also has beneficial effects on skin conditions particularly eczema. It's also known to help with IBS. There was a farm near Leighton Buzzard in Beds that used to produce it, it was available in many Waitrose stores nationally and other outlets locally. I'm not sure if they are still trading though.
Ian W, Hemel Hempstead, Herts
Perhaps Finlo Rohrer should try a few different soya alternatives - not all are sweet and sickly (like the brand featured in the picture accompanying this article) and in fact some are as refreshing as cow's. It's all about what you're used to. I used to drink goat's milk as a child, being allergic to cow's but after a period without goat's milk, i now can't abide the stuff.
Tim, Sheffield, UK
I think I'll pass - I think cow & goat milks taste bad enough, I'm not going out of my way to try another species no matter what the apparent benefits.
I would be willing to drink camel milk and I think most people eventually would - to me a cow is not the most appealing of animals either, so no difference there. The health benefits also sound like it would certainly be worthwhile to make the change, but the biggest element for most people, moreso than even the taste I think, will be the price. Until the supermarkets can get it on the shelves at a very similar price to of cow's milk, only small sections of society will buy it.
Daniel Clarke, Madrid
I have to drink lactose-free milk due to lactose intolerance, and have quickly got used to it. It is slightly sweeter, as the lactose (milk sugar) has been converted to glucose by the addition, usually of pig hormone (!) - but apart from this the main problem is that it is only available in this country as UHT, which makes any milk taste odd (and 'flat'). Also the larger of the two importers only does it as a full-fat milk (both suppliers are incredibly unreliable and available only in a few larger supermarkets). In America you can get lactose-free fresh milk in most groceries, along with all the other milk options; you can also get lactose-free ice cream, cream and milkshakes. Why can't we have it here? Come on Dairy Crest (or whoever) - bring it on! I'd buy the lot.
Mel Harrison, London
Your article made me laugh. It sounds almost like you're promoting drinking of cows and goats milk. Totally ignoring the fact that it is unnatural and drinking cow's milk is linked to different diseases including cancer. I grew up drinking milk and didn't think twice about it. I think it's the fact that society tells you, you should drink milk, it's good for you - stereotype. It's in fact the opposite but they're just finding that out!
Monika Bhika, London, UK
Right-on veggie types like Heather who want us to switch to soya "milk" should think again. Remember all those rainforests that were burned down to graze cattle? These days that land is more likely to be used for intensively growing soya - not exactly environmentally sound. And more to the point, as the article points out, it's absolutely disgusting - it tastes more like battery acid than milk. If lactose is a problem, go for goat's milk, and if you're bothered by the dairy industry, buy yourself a goat.
Fera Festiva, Brighton, UK
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