The National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, heads up the five-year project which runs until the end of 2017.
Other partners are University of Copenhagen, ingredient producer Chr. Hansen and Haramaya University, Department of Animal Sciences, Ethiopia.
A pilot plant in Haramaya has been converted to a lab-scale facility in operation since 2014.
Camels are held as dairy animals but also used for meat and transportation. The largest population is in East Africa, around the Horn of Africa in Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia.
Camel milk is 0.5% of the global milk production. But more than 90% of the global camel milk is produced in Africa where it amounts to 8% of the milk production.
Establish an industry
Egon Bech Hansen, professor at the National Food Institute, said there is potential for countries which have poverty and droughts to establish an infrastructure and create a camel dairy industry.
“A traditional problem we have with camel milk is there are limited dairy products you can make, it is difficult to make butter and cheese. You are limited to milk and fermented milk, I think for that reason it has not been taken into industry," he told us.
“Camel milk is not highly significant in the world production at about three million tonnes [according to 2013 FAO statistics], which might seem small, but regions may depend on it.”
Bech Hansen added Camelicious, based in Dubai, is exporting camel milk to countries including Denmark and the UK.
Camel milk is mainly consumed raw in the local area without the use of modern distribution channels.
The development of a dairy industry has been limited as butter and cheese could not be manufactured from camel’s milk, limiting the product to be liquid milk.
Most of it is sold as unpasteurized drinking milk which represents a health risk and has a limited shelf life due to microbial spoilage.
Production of dairy products with extended shelf life and improved safety will increase the value and reduce economic loss due to spoilage.
Part of the project is aimed at increasing knowledge about basic hygienic practices such as washing hands thoroughly and not milking sick animals to prevent bacteria getting into the raw milk.
Bech Hansen said they have focussed on capacity building in Africa with two PhD and 10 master projects being finalised in the next year.
“Local expertise is good support for local dairies. In Ethiopia two dairy companies are producing 10,000 litres of pasteurised camel milk per day. There is a problem that UHT camel milk is not currently possible as it does not tolerate high heat treatment," he said.
“There is reluctance in the community as they have a belief in the health properties and heat treatment spoils those properties and we have a battle to show it has benefits as it can kill organisms such as E. coli.”
Bech Hansen said if producing unpasteurized camel milk there must be a much higher level of hygiene, quality and surveillance of animal health. It is not a level currently attained in Ethiopia.
“We wanted to bring our century long expertise in the sector, there is a big need for traditional expertise in food safety and zoonosis and specialist expertise in how to develop products," he said.
“Many aspects of camel and bovine milk behave differently, sometimes bovine milk is the one that is odd with things you cannot do with other proteins.
“There is a lot of interest in camel milk because consumers who are not tolerant to bovine milk due to allergy, there is a chance due to the different composition of camel milk it could be tolerated. The absence of beta-lactoglobulin in camel milk is not necessarily the end of milk allergens.”
Camel milk is composed of lactose, fat, and protein in roughly the same proportion as bovine milk. However, composition of the proteins differs and β-lactoglobulin is absent in camel milk.
Dairy products based on camel milk cannot be developed just by technology transfer as it differs more from bovine milk than milk from cows, buffaloes, sheep and goats differ from each other.
Through the use of modern biotechnology conditions have changed, as camel chymosin is now commercially available as a dairy enzyme.
Researchers have made it possible to use a special kind of rennet from Chr. Hansen to produce curd from camel's milk. The curd can be used to produce various types of fresh cheese.
The project has also made it possible to choose which starter cultures can be used for the production of fermented camel milk products.
It received 8.5 million Danish kroner in funding from Denmark’s development cooperation programme (DANIDA) and the Laurits Andersens Fond.