Cow’s milk has been seen as a vital source of nutrients for over 7,000 years.
However, people have recently begun getting curious about other types of animal milk.
To be precise, giraffe milk. Google searches for ‘Can you milk a giraffe?’ are on the rise – and it turns out this is not the first time people have wondered this.
In 1962, a group of researchers milked a giraffe while it was under anaesthesia for an operation, to find out what was in its milk.
The report revealed that giraffe milk has a high fat content – 12.5%, to be precise. That compares with 3.5% in full fat cow’s milk (semi-skimmed has 1.5% – 1.8%, skimmed milk has less than 0.3% fat content).
In addition, giraffe milk contains similar amounts of riboflavin, thiamine and vitamin B6 to cow’s milk, but it has higher levels of vitamins B12 and A.
In other words, in many ways, giraffe milk could be better for us than the traditional cow’s milk we pour on our cereal – though the fat content could be off-putting to some.
After all, giraffe milk has four times more fat than full-fat cow’s milk, and more than 12 times more fat than skimmed milk.
Does this mean it’s bad for us, though? Maybe not.
A study published by Tufts University in 2016, which followed 3,333 people over two decades, noted that those who had the most dairy fat in their diet had a 46% lower risk of diabetes, compared with people who consumed the least.
More vitamins, four times the amount of dairy fat that reduces risk of diabetes… hold on – is giraffe milk the new superfood?
If so, where can we buy it?
Sadly, currently nowhere, because to date, there is no one brave enough to try to make a business out of selling giraffe milk.
So why is it that humans tend to milk mainly cows?
It is not because we cannot drink the milk of other mammals. While other mammals’ milk may taste less pleasant to our palate – sea lion milk has a 40% fat content and no lactose, dolphin milk is said to be ‘oily and fishy’, for instance – we should be able to safely consume the milk of pretty much all mammals. It is the limitations around production that limit our consumption.
In the UK, there is a market for goat’s milk and a small market for buffalo milk.
Elsewhere, along with goat’s milk, other milk has a market – camel milk in the Middle East, yak milk in central Asia (China, India, Mongolia, Nepal and Tibet) and buffalo milk in South Asia and Italy, for instance.
It comes down to a number of elements – mainly, cost, efficiency and practicalities of production.
Cows are docile animals that are relatively easily kept, herded and milked. Other animals, like goats and sheep, may produce enough milk to make milking worthwhile, but keeping them requires more space and herding and milking is more of a challenge.
Camels can be milked, but it is a tricky task. As this WSJ video explains, camels do not like being milked. They are cantankerous animals who don’t like their udders to be touched.
When camels are milked, it tends to be by hand – though in Kenya and UAE, there are some larger-scale camel milk farms and camel milk made by Desert Farms in the mid-west US by Amish communities can be bought online.
In general though, it requires much more effort to hook camels up to mass milking machines like cows are, making mass production impractical.
When it comes to a giraffe, it would be almost impossible to get one to stand still long enough to be milked – let alone enough to set up a profitable business. The giraffes that have been milked have been milked under controlled conditions by scientists.
The idea that giraffe milk should become as common as cow’s milk or goat’s milk in our supermarkets is unlikely.