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Handling, preservation and utilization of camel milk and camel milk products in Shinile and Jijiga Zones, eastern Ethiopia

Eyassu Seifu

Department of Animal Sciences, Haramaya University, P.O.Box 287, Alemaya campus, Ethiopia
eyassu_seifu@yahoo.com

Abstract

Traditional handling practices, preservation methods and utilization of camel milk and camel milk products by nomadic pastoralists in Shinile and Jijiga zones, eastern Ethiopia were assessed. A total of 73 households were interviewed on various aspects of camel milk and camel milk products using a single-visit multiple-subject diagnostic survey.

All the respondents reported that camel milk is mainly consumed in its raw state in the study area. Pastoralists claim that camel milk has therapeutic property against jaundice, malaria and constipation. Camel herders in the study area make fermented sour milk called dhanaan from camel milk. However, cheese and butter are not made from camel milk in the study area. Smoking of milk containers and storage of milk in a cold place are the major methods used to preserve camel milk in the area. The majority of the respondents reported that raw camel milk can be kept unspoiled for about seven days.

In conclusion, camel milk has a number of unique properties that deserve detailed scientific investigation.

Key words: Camel milk, Ethiopia, therapeutic property, traditional preservation


Introduction

The one-humped camel (Camelus dromedarius) plays an important role as a primary source of subsistence in the lowlands of Ethiopia. It lives in areas which are not suitable for crop production and where other livestock species hardly thrive. Because of its outstanding performance in the arid and semi-arid areas of eastern lowlands of Ethiopia where browse and water are limited, pastoralists rely mainly on camels for their livelihood. In these areas, camels are mainly kept for milk production and produce milk for a longer period of time even during the dry season when milk from cattle is scarce (Bekele et al 2002). Ethiopia possesses over 1 million dromedary camels which stands the country third in the world (FAO 2002). The majority of these camels are found in the eastern part of the country.

The annual camel milk production in Ethiopia is estimated to be 75, 000 tones (Felleke 2003). It is often reported that surplus of camel milk is produced in the country during the rainy season. Although not studied in depth as compared to milk of other domestic animals, so far a lot of information has been reported about camel milk from different countries. However, despite the important contribution of camel milk to pastoralists living in the lowlands of the country, little is known about the properties and keeping quality of camel milk at the high ambient temperatures prevailing at the production areas nor is reported about traditional handling practices, preservation methods, traditional camel milk products, types of spoilage and shelf life of camel milk in Ethiopia in general and in Shinile and Jijiga zones in particular.

Understanding of the traditional handling practices, preservation methods and utilization of camel milk will help to design appropriate strategies and measures which could be used to increase camel milk production and improve the quality of camel milk and camel milk products in the area. This study was, therefore, aimed at addressing the traditional handling practices, preservation methods and utilization of camel milk and camel milk products in Shinile and Jijiga zones of eastern Ethiopia.
 

Materials and methods

Description of the study area

This study was conducted in Shinile and Jijiga zones in eastern Ethiopia. These areas are characterized by unreliable and erratic rainfall with a precipitation ranging from 300 to 600 mm per annum, high ambient temperatures (>30°C), sparsely distributed vegetation dominated by Cactus and Acacia species, and bushy woodlands (Bekele 2001). The altitude of these areas ranges from 500-1500 m above sea level. The majority of the camel herders in these areas are Somali ethnic groups. Numerically, camels are the most abundant domestic animals in these areas followed by small ruminants.

Sampling method

Traditional handling practices, preservation methods and utilization of camel milk and camel milk products by pastoralists in Shinile and Jijiga zones in eastern Ethiopia were assessed by using a single-visit multiple-subject diagnostic survey (ILCA 1990). A total of 73 households (37 from Shinile and 36 from Jijiga) who owned camels and who are familiar with camel husbandry were selected using purposive sampling technique. Households at each zone were selected based on accessibility of the village and willingness of the camel owners to take part in the interview. Information about consumption pattern, preference and therapeutic properties of camel milk; traditional products; traditional preservation methods; milk marketing; types of spoilage and shelf life of camel milk was obtained from camel owners by means of a semi-structured questionnaire.

Statistical analysis

Descriptive statistics was used to analyze the data using the Minitab software version 12.21 (Minitab 1998). Ranking of milk types preferred by pastoralists was done according to the method described by the International Livestock Center for Africa (ILCA 1990). Ranking was done after calculating the weighted average score for each milk type by adding weighted scores and then dividing the sum by the total number of respondents. Chi-square test was used to determine differences in preference between the different milk types reported.


Results and discussion

Preference, consumption and marketing of camel milk

In the eastern lowlands of Ethiopia, nomadic pastoralists keep mixed livestock species each for a particular purpose. The domestic livestock species raised by pastoralists for milk production in the study area include camels, cows, goats and sheep. Among these, camels and cows are the major milk-producing animals in the area. Cow and camel milk were highly and equally preferred by the pastoralists in the study area. With respect to preference, cow, camel, sheep and goat milk ranked first, second, third and fourth, respectively (Table 1).

Table 1.  Preference, consumption and marketing of camel milk by nomadic pastoralists in Shinile and Jijiga zones  (n = 70)

Variables

Number and proportion (%) of responses

Preferred milk typea

 

Cow milk

1st (2.0)b

Camel milk

2nd (1.8)b

Sheep milk

3rd (0.8)c

Goat milk

4th  (0.4)d

Consumption of camel milk

 

Fresh

73 (100%)

Dhanaan (sour milk)

59 (80.8%)

Mixed with other milk

10 (13.7%)

Marketing of camel milk

 

Milk sale

73 (100%)

Milk pricee

4.8 Birr/liter 1.9

aThe preferences for milk types were ranked by calculating the weighted average score for each milk type and the values in column two under the heading preferred milk type are ranks and the weighted average scores in parenthesis; eThe value for milk price is mean plus standard deviation and at the time of this survey, 1 US Dollar was = 8.25 Ethiopian Birr; Values with different superscript letters within a column are significantly different (P < 0.05); n = number of households interviewed.

According to the pastoralists view, milk from each species has its own unique attributes and properties. Pastoralists claim that camel milk is superior to the milk of other species. They gave many reasons for their preference of camel milk to milk of other domestic animals. Cows' milk tend to make people fat, that is, it causes obesity but camel milk gives strength, endurance and stamina, an attribute that pastoralists need in order to pursue a nomadic life style. Unlike cows' milk, camel milk has medicinal values and can be used to treat a number of aliments in human beings. Besides, the pastoralists believe that camel milk keeps for a long time, it has high nutritional value, it contains higher levels of vitamins, it is easier to digest, and it quenches thirsty. The informants also indicated that cows' and sheep milk are sweeter than camel milk and have high fat content and thus suitable for butter-making.

In the study area, camel milk is mainly consumed in its raw state without being subjected to any sort of processing treatment. All the households interviewed reported that they use camel milk when it is fresh (Table 1). This observation is in agreement with that reported earlier by Yagil (1982) and Alhadrami (2003) who indicated that camel milk is consumed fresh in most camel rearing societies. Consumption of raw camel milk should be of major concern from public health point of view. A recent report from Morocco indicated that higher levels of total aerobic count, enterococci, fecal coliforms and Staphylococcus aureus were detected in raw camel milk and this suggests the potential hazard associated with consumption of raw camel milk (Benkerroum et al 2003). Similarly, Zahran and Al-Saleh (1997) isolated Bacillus, Corynebacterium, Micrococcus, Streptococcus, Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas species from raw camel milk produced in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Small proportion of the respondents reported that they mix camel milk with milk of other species (Table 1). In the study area, camel milk is mixed with milk of cows, goats and sheep particularly when intended to make products such as butter and cheese. This result is inline with a previous report by Yagil (1982) who reported that camel milk is often mixed with fresh or churned goat milk to make milk products.

Apart from its food value, pastoralists generate income from sale of camel milk. Almost all respondents reported that they sale camel milk to generate income (Table 1). The average price of one liter of camel milk was 4.8 Ethiopian Birr (At the time of this survey, 1 US Dollar was equivalent to 8.25 Ethiopian Birr ) (Table 1). Women are generally responsible for marketing of camel milk in the study areas. This is in agreement with that reported by Talle (1992) who indicated that women are responsible for processing and marketing of camel milk in Somalia. In order for the camel dairy industry to grow, the acceptance of camel milk by consumers in cities located in the arid zones needs to be encouraged. The fact that all the households interviewed in the present study reported that they sale camel milk implies that camel milk has high demand in the market. If the demand for camel milk is high, then there is a huge potential for increasing production and improving the quality of camel milk and camel milk products. Although camel milk has high demand in the area, camel milk marketing is constrained by lack of roads and well-organized transportation systems. The high ambient temperature prevailing in the area which coupled with lack of cooling facilities reduces the shelf life of the milk and thus makes delivery of raw camel milk to the market difficult. Establishment of milk collection centers and introduction of small-scale milk processing industries might help to solve the marketing problem of camel milk in the area.

Therapeutic properties of camel milk

One peculiar characteristic of camel milk is its therapeutic value against a number of human diseases. Pastoralists claim that camel milk is used to treat a number of illnesses in human beings (Table 2).

Table 2.  Therapeutic use of camel milk by nomadic pastoralists in Shinile and Jijiga zones (n = 73)

Type of disease

Number and proportion (%) of responses

Jaundice

54 (74%)

Malaria

34 (46.6%)

Constipation

31 (42.5%)

To clear the stomach

10 (13.7%)

Postpartum care of women

7 (9.6%)

To detoxify snake venom

6 (8.2%)

Flatulence

5 (6.8%)

n = number of households interviewed.

The majority of the respondents reported that camel milk is used to treat jaundice, malaria and constipation. According to the pastoralists view, the claimed therapeutic property of camel milk is attributed to the fact that camels browse on various plant species and active agents with therapeutic properties from these plant species are secreted into the milk of camels. The medicinal value of camel milk has also been reported by other authors (Rao et al 1970; Yagil 1982; Yagil 1985).

Traditional products made from camel milk

Products that are traditionally made from camel milk by pastoralists in the study area are indicated in Table 3.

Table 3.  Traditional products made from camel milk by nomadic pastoralists in Shinile and Jijiga zones (n = 73)

Products

Number and proportion (%) of responses

Reasons for making

Dhanaana

60 (82.2%)

To prolong shelf life

 

 

Has high nutritional value

 

 

Enables collection of milk over a few days

 

 

When surplus milk is produced

 

 

To deliver milk to the market

 

 

Has high demand by urban dwellers

 

 

It quenches thirsty

 

 

Preference for its taste

Butter

9 (12.3%)

For consumption

aDhanaan is a fermented sour camel milk; n = number of households interviewed.

Pastoralists in the study area produce naturally fermented sour milk called dhanaan. Dhanaan (also called Karuur) is made by placing fresh camel milk in a clean/smoked container, wrapping the container with a piece of cloth and keeping it in a warm (ambient temperature) place for about 12-24 h to allow spontaneous fermentation. Dhanaan is said to have a shelf life of about 5 months. Similar products from camel milk were reported from Kenya, Somalia and Sudan. Naturally fermented camel milk products namely susac and shubat are produced in Kenya, Somalia and Sudan (Alhadrami 2003). Similarly, a fermented sour milk called gariss is made from camel milk in Sudan by placing raw camel milk in a skin bag hitched to the saddle of a camel that is allowed to go about its business (Abdelgadir et al 1998).

No information has been reported about the properties and potentials of the fermented camel milk product dhanaan produced in the area. Pastoralists make dhanaan from camel milk because they believe that it has high nutritional value and long shelf life, it enables collection of milk over a few days and thus facilitates delivery of milk to the market, it eliminates seasonal surpluses of milk, its taste is liked by the consumers, it has high demand in the market especially by urban dwellers, and it quenches thirst.

Dhanaan is made by spontaneous fermentation without using a starter culture. However, some of the informants mentioned that when a small amount of previously fermented milk is added as a starter into fresh camel milk it takes only 6 h to obtain dhanaan. Kenyan researchers showed that the quality of susac, a fermented camel milk, improved using selected mesophilic lactic starter cultures rather than spontaneous fermentation; the resulting fermented milk had a uniform taste and a longer shelf life (Farah et al 1990; Lore et al 2005). Isolation and identification of microorganisms that are responsible for the fermentation and production of the indigenous fermented camel milk product, dhanaan, would help to develop a commercial starter culture and to standardize the manufacturing method for this product in the future.

One interesting point that the camel owners mentioned during the interview was that when making dhanaan, the milk in the container should be kept closed; otherwise the fermentation process doesn't take place. This suggests that the microorganisms responsible for souring or fermentation of camel milk are probably thermophilic anaerobic types.

The majority of the informants reported that butter cannot be made from camel milk. However, few of the respondents indicated that although it is difficult to extract the fat and it takes long time (2-3 days) to churn the milk, it is possible to make butter from camel milk (Table 3). Butter can be made from camel milk by placing fresh camel milk in a container made of goatskin and by hitching it to the saddle of the camel during long journey. During this time, the milk in the container gets churned and eventually small black butter grains are formed. The butter made as such is not consumed as butter per se rather it is mixed with fresh camel milk and drunk. This result agrees favourably with earlier reports (Rao et al 1970; Yagil 1982; Yagil 1985; Farah et al 1989; Wangoh 1993; Alhadrami 2003). These authors indicated that production of butter from camel milk cannot be achieved easily because camel milk shows little tendency to cream up and also because the fat in camel milk is firmly bound to the protein (Rao et al 1970). Factors that affect manufacture of butter and optimization of churning and cream separation processes from camel milk may help alleviate the difficulty of buttermaking from camel milk.

The majority of the respondents reported that cheese is not made from camel milk in the area because unlike cows' milk and milk of small ruminants, camel milk doesn't readily coagulate. However, few of the respondents indicated that although difficult, cheese can be made from camel milk by mixing it with milk of other species. This is inline with that reported by Mehaia (1993) who indicated that an acceptable quality of Domiati cheese with a satisfactory gross composition and yield and with good flavour can be made from a mixture of camel and cow milk. The difficulty of coagulating camel milk using commercial rennet was reported by Ramet (1987) and Farah and Bachmann (1987). It takes four times as much rennet to coagulate camel milk as compared to cow milk (Ramet 1987) and coagulation time of camel milk is two to three folds longer than that of cow milk (Farah and Bachmann 1987).

Traditional preservation methods

The major traditional methods that are used to preserve camel milk in the study area include washing and smoking milk vessels, keeping milk in a cold place, souring and boiling the milk (Table 4).

Table 4.  Traditional preservation methods and tree species used to smoke camel milk vessels in Shinile and Jijiga zones (n = 73)

Variables

 

Number and proportion

(%) of responses

Traditional preservation methods

 

 

Washing and smoking milk vessels

 

50 (68.5%)

Keeping milk in a cold place

 

33 (45.2%)

Souring

 

15 (20.5%)

Boiling

 

8 (11%)

Tree species used to smoke milk vessels

 

 

Vernacular name (Somali)

Scientific name

 

Wigir

Olea africana

20 (27.4%)

Kidi

Balanites galabra

12 (16.4%)

Sogsog

Acacia ethaica

4 (5.5.%)

n = number of households interviewed.

The milk containers are generally fumigated with burned woods of specific trees. Olea africana and Balanites galabra are the major tree species used to smoke milk vessels in the study area (Table 4). Smoking milk containers has been reported to exert anti-microbial properties and prolong the shelf life of cow milk (Ashenafi 1996). Compounds released from these tree species during smoking of the milk containers may in part be responsible for the longer shelf life of camel milk observed in the present study (Table 5).

Table 5.  Types of spoilage and reported shelf life of camel milk in Shinile and Jijiga zones (n = 73)

Variables

Number and proportion (%) of responses

Types of spoilage

 

Formation of flakes/curd particles

22 (30.1%)

Whey separation (syneresis)

16 (21.9%)

Ropiness

13 (17.8%)

Souring

8 (11%)

Shelf life

 

7 days

16 (21.9%)

4 days

6 (8.2%)

3 days

6 (8.2%)

48 h

6 (8.2%)

24 h

6 (8.2%)

n = number of households interviewed.

Eleven percent of the informants reported that camel milk is boiled in the study area (Table 4) especially when intended to sale it and give it to children, to prolong its shelf life, to prevent souring and spoilage, and when intended to mix it with tea. In general, heat processing of camel milk is not widely practiced in areas where camel milk is produced (Wangoh 1993). However, a recent report from Mauritania indicated that camel milk can be pasteurized commercially and made available to the health conscious consumers (Abeiderrahmane 1997).

Types of spoilage and shelf life of camel milk

The majority of the respondents reported that fresh camel milk can be kept unspoiled for about 7 days (Table 5). This is much longer than the shelf life of raw cows' milk, which usually ranges from 24-48 h. This observation is in line with that reported previously by Yagil et al (1984) who indicated that cows' milk turns sour within 48 h; however, it took seven days for camel milk to sour. Similarly, Talle (1992) reported that while cows' milk spoils only after few days and become undrinkable, camel milk tastes well even after five or six days. The long shelf life of camel milk is of paramount importance to pastoralists living in desert areas where cooling facilities are not available. The better keeping quality of camel milk suggests that it probably contains compounds or substances with strong anti-microbial properties.

The most common types of spoilage that occur in camel milk include formation of flakes or curd particles, whey separation (syneresis), ropiness and souring (Table 5). These defects are similar to the types of spoilage that occur in cow milk.
 

Conclusions

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Received 13 March 2007; Accepted 18 April 2007; Published 4 June 2007

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