Conjure up an image of the desert in your mind, and you’ll see a few things: Sweltering sun. Dry, arid land covered in sand. But wherever you see people in that image, you’ll also see the desert’s most important domesticated animal — the camel.
The camel’s two distinctive humps, long neck, and ambling gait have made it a favorite of directors and producers of desert cinema.
But long before it became a pop culture image, the camel was domesticated as an important source of meat, camel milk, and natural fibers.
They’re excellent pack animals too, and enjoy a similar place in the desert as horses and mules do on the plains.
In its native regions, camel meat is considered a rare delicacy — including the camel hump, which is filled with fat (and not water as is commonly believed).
But as more people move from North Africa & Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia to Europe and North America, they’re bringing their traditions — and their favorite foods — with them.
So if you’re curious to try camel meat for yourself, you’re in luck: The Somali population in Minnesota is making great strides towards the widespread acceptance and availability of camel meat.
We talked with chefs and family members in the Midwest to get their inside scoop on camel meat, including what it tastes like and how it’s usually prepared in the cultures it comes from.
In this article, we’ll be sharing all of that with you as well as camel nutrition facts, a few recipes with camel, and where you can buy camel meat to taste for yourself.
By the time you’re finished reading, you may just be a camel convert.
What Does Camel Meat Taste Like?
The flavor of camel meat is a product of three factors:
- the camel’s specific genetics.
- the amount and type of exercise it gets.
- how its meat is butchered and prepared.
Almost all of the world’s camel meat production is now being harvested in Australia. When the continent was first being colonized, British travelers brought over one-hump camels to provide hauling and labor in the arid climate.
But once their services were no longer needed, the camels were released into the wild.
This would come to be a serious problem in the outback, but not right away. Because the wild camel population had no natural predators in that environment, they were able to reproduce at an incredible rate — leading to giant, roving herds of feral camels.
Eventually, the Australian government okayed a project to slaughter hundreds of thousands of these feral camels.
Thousands of them were butchered via halal methods, either in Australia or after being exported to the Middle East and East Africa.
This was just the push that camel meat needed to come back into the public eye, and now there are Australian entrepreneurs providing a regular source for all camel meat consumption around the world.
So how does camel meat taste? It’s very similar to grass-fed beef or bison. Its rich flavor comes without much fat, and has also been compared to a softer-tasting venison.
And since camel meat is so often prepared in accordance with halal dietary restrictions, it’s given extra special care at every point in the butchering process, leading to even better tasting meat.
Camel Meat Nutrition
Because of its lean composition and high protein content, camel meat is quite healthy — especially in comparison to fattier cuts of beef or pork.
Here are the nutrition facts for 100 grams of camel meat, courtesy of caloriecounter.com.au:
- 149 calories
- 8 grams of total fat, with 4 grams of saturated fat
- 45 milligrams of cholesterol
- 20 grams of protein
That’s all in addition to a robust selection of B Vitamins and minerals. So overall, camel meat is a healthy alternative to other red meat, similar to goat meat.
Risks and Considerations for Eating Camel Meat
Usually, exotic animal meat comes with a higher risk than standard farm- and factory-produced meats. But in the case of camel meat, its unique origins and halal processing eliminate any outside risks and considerations.
Halal — the Arabic word for “permissible” or “lawful” — describes the exact methods that must be adhered to when slaughtering and butchering an animal.
The animal must be alive and healthy at the time of slaughter, and killed via a cut to the jugular vein.
Then its blood is drained while a dedication is recited in the animal’s honor. The entire process is approached with a reverence that makes the animal’s meat much less likely to carry diseases or stress hormones.
How to Cook Camel Meat
Cooking camel meat is as easy as cooking with beef or bison meat. If you have a favorite recipe that calls for lean ground beef or bison, camel can be substituted 1-for-1.
Just keep in mind that because camel meat is leaner, you need to be careful not to overcook it.
Because camel meat is far from being cheap, though, you’ll want to have some surefire recipes to use it in. Let’s take a closer look at some “no recipe” recipes that will make great use of camel meat’s soft but rich flavor.
Camel Meat Burgers
These are by far the most popular use of the animal’s meat. Ground camel meat has enough moisture content to keep it from drying out while cooking, but you can also add a little bit of olive oil and bread crumbs if you want it to hold together well at higher temperatures.
Safari Express, a Somalian restaurant in Minneapolis, makes an incredibly popular camel burger that’s mixed with East African herbs and spices and topped with grilled pineapple.
This is another easy-to-make recipe that substitutes camel meat for beef. Use ground camel meat, and mix it with a beaten egg, breadcrumbs, and your favorite herbs and spices. A little cumin and smoked paprika is my favorite simple combination.
Put it in a heavy-bottomed baking pan, and cook covered in the oven for about 45 minutes.
It makes great use of whole cuts of camel. Start by sautéing onions and root vegetables in a Dutch oven, then add the camel roast and plenty of broth.
Herbs and spices make a great addition here too, where they can infuse their flavor into the broth through a long cook time in the oven.
Covering the Dutch oven will keep the camel as tender as possible, and you’re looking to cook it until it’s fall-off-the-bone tender.
Curry with Camel
This option is also a fantastic vehicle for camel meat. If you have a larger cut of camel meat, you can trim small pieces off to use later in a curry, where they will impart a rich flavor to whatever spices and seasonings you use for the curry base.
Cut the camel meat into approximately 1-inch cubes, and sear it in a little bit of high quality oil. Remove the camel and set aside. In the same oil, sauté onions until translucent.
Add tomato paste, salt, paprika, cumin, and cinnamon, and cook while stirring for 2 minutes. Add a can of crushed tomatoes and return the camel to the pot.
Let cook until tomatoes are starting to break down, then serve with yogurt and fresh herbs.
Camel chili is another way to make sure that any camel meat you have stays as tender and juicy as possible. For this, you can use ground camel meat, pieces of trim, or cubes of camel steak.
I make a simple chili with any sort of meat by sautéing onions and garlic in olive oil, then adding the meat to slightly brown it.
Toss in a couple cans of beans and a can of crush tomatoes, then top with stock and/or tomato juice. Add salt and pepper to taste, and you have a hearty and easy-to-make weeknight meal.
Camel Meatballs are a less common use for camel meat, but they definitely work well. It’s the same basic recipes as the meatloaf mentioned above, but rolled into individual balls that will be pan-seared in olive oil. Serve with spaghetti and red sauce, and you’ll add an interesting spice to a traditional meal.
Camel Tacos can be made with any protein you’d like, and camel is no exception. Ground camel meat spiced with cumin and chili powder makes for a great taco filling. You could also marinate a larger cut of camel with those same spices and a little bit of oil and vinegar, then cut it into strips and grill it fajita-style.
Try serving it with a fruity salsa to really bring out the flavor of the camel meat and spices.
So as you can see, any recipe where you could use ground beef or bison is fair game for substituting camel.
Where to Buy Camel Meat for Sale
If you’re curious to try cooking and eating camel meat products in your own home, the internet will provide. Unless you live in Australia or near East Africa, ordering online is actually the only way to get your hands on some fresh camel meat.
But as Somali communities continue to expand in parts of America (Minnesota and Seattle in particular), you might even be able to find some at your local exotic grocer.
Exotic Meat Market is my first choice for buying camel meat online. They have an exceptionally wide range of camel products available, from ground camel to roasts to steaks and sausages. Prices can be a little bit high, but their quality is uncompromising.
Holy Land Brand has the most affordable halal camel meat we’ve found, but it’s not always in stock. If you’re looking to try camel meat without spending a lot, send them an email and ask to be updated when camel meat is back in stock.
Gourmet Food Store is a reliable source for ground camel meat at a good price, but you have to order at least 10 pounds at a time. Make room in your freezer or split the price with a few friends though, and it’s a good deal.
Blackwing Quality Meats offers ground camel meat by the pound, too, though it’s not always in stock.
FAQs for Camel Meat
And to wrap things up, let’s take a quick look at some of the most common questions we’ve heard people ask about camel meat.
How healthy is camel meat?
Compared to beef, camel meat is actually quite healthy. It’s lower is calories, fats, and cholesterol, but still has the same high protein and great flavor of beef.
Is camel meat expensive?
Camel meat usually costs a little bit more than grass fed beef. So it’s more expensive than common meats, but less expensive than many other exotic meats.
What is camel meat called?
Cow meat is called beef, and pig meat is called pork — but camel meat is just called camel.
Can you eat camel?
Yes, you can eat camel. Camel meat is a red meat that is low in fat and cholesterol and high in protein. It is also a good source of iron, zinc, and vitamin B6. Camel has a slightly gamey taste and can be cooked in a variety of ways.
Do people eat camels?
Yes, people do eat camels. In some parts of the world, camel meat is considered a delicacy.