For dairy consuming Westerners, the word milk, without any specification, is automatically linked to cows. This is not always the case in other regions of the world, including most parts of China. Goat raising regions produce goat milk, which is also quite familiar in Europe. However, Mongolians also drink horse milk, usually fermented. A few regions commercially process donkey milk. The latter two are available in China, but on a very small scale. One type of non-bovine milk that seems to be catching on in China is camel milk.
Decrease and increase
According to the latest available statistics, 405,300 camels were being raised in China at the end of 2019, up from 242,800 in 2011. In fact, the number of camels was 640,000 in 1981, but the number started decreasing as fewer and fewer camels were used for transportation. The recent rise is due to the new interested in camel milk. Almost 90% of the camels in China live in Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia.
A camel typically produces 1.2 mt of milk p.a. compared to 8 – 9 mt of a Holstein cow. That makes camels rather inefficient milk producers. The following table shows the historic development of camel milk output in China
In 2018, Xinjiang was the largest production region with 52.94%, followed by Inner Mongolia with 26%.
The purchasing price of raw camel milk increased considerably during the same period.
Camel milk is high in: calcium, iron, and vitamins B and C. It is therefore thought to be good for preventing osteoporosis. It also contains fair amounts of lysozyme, lactoferrin and immunoglobulin.
Camel milk also helps lower blood sugar. Per litre, camel milk has 52 units of insulin, 3,000 times more than cow milk. It is a natural, multifunctional dairy product with high nutritional value.
The density of camel colostrum is between 32 and 35, while normal camel milk is around 28. “The lactose content in camel colostrum is also higher.
Insiders expect that the Chinese demand for camel milk will increase steadily during the coming years. The value of the market was RMB 974 mln in 2019, but is expect to increase to RMB 2.228 billion by 2024. Online supermarket Tmall has reported a turnover of camel milk powder of RMB 81.83 mln per month in 2020; 40 times the amount in 2019.
A number of commercial camel milk products are available in China. In this post, I am introducing Tuoneng. The pictures respectively show the canned milk and the packaging line.
Xuelian Dairy was founded in Shaanxi province in 1978. It acquired a dairy company in Xinjiang in 2003 and launched its first camel milk based formulae in 2015. The picture shows its colostrum camel milk formula.
Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success.