When you think of Dubai, images of gold bars, shining sun, deserts and camels trudging in a line disappearing amongst the vast sand dunes, come to mind. You wouldn’t remotely associate chocolate here.
But a company called Al Nassma – meaning breeze in Arabic – has challenged that. Founded and owned by His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, it was set up in 2008, in partnership with Austrian chocolate maker Manner. Al Nassma manufactures the end product at its Dubai facility — the Camelicious farm, home to an army of 3,000 camels; the milk they generate produces 100 tonnes of premium chocolates a year.
Camel milk has always been a traditional staple among Bedouin tribes, but this is the first time it is being used in chocolate. Al Nassma’s General Manager, Martin van Almsick, a chocolatier from Cologne who moved here five years ago, serves me a cappuccino made with camel’s milk. “A camelccino” he says, with a straight face.
“Nobody thought about using camel milk before, then people from the camel world met people from the chocolate world and it occurred to everybody that it was obvious,” Martin Almsick adds as we walk towards the area where the camels are milked.
It took him nearly three years to get the recipe right. “There was a huge amount of trial and error as camel milk is slightly more salty than cow’s milk.”
For this exceptional project, chocolatiers from around the world joined in to create an innovation 133 years after milk chocolate was invented. A chocolate aficionado and former manager of the famous Cologne chocolate museum, Martin Almsick worked together with experts from Austria and Germany to create this chocolate brand.
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The company sells chocolates through its Camelicious farm-attached store in Umm Nahad, nestling in the desert sands on the Dubai-Al Ain highway, as well as in luxury hotels and private airlines. Now international chocolatiers are catching on as well.
“Al Nassma is a truly Arabian product, with Arabic ingredients produced for the Arabic palate. This product category does not exist anywhere else; it is a world novelty,” Martin Almsick explains.
The product line includes a host of flavours, from pralines filled with pistachio, nougat and coffee cream to chocolate bars, including whole milk, 70 per cent cocoa and the so-called Arabia, flavoured with local spices, dates, macadamia nut and orange. At the centre of the line is the gold-wrapped chocolate camel, embodying the source of Al Nassma — the camel and its milk.
So why should you go in for a real camel milk chocolate bar? Firstly, camel milk is milder than goat’s milk and free of the allergens that cow’s milk can have. It’s high in vitamin C, low in fat and won’t curdle in your stomach like some other milk. It’s considered to be the closest thing to mother’s milk.
No chemicals are added either, which is especially appealing in the days of cow diseases. Since camel’s milk is already so rich in calcium, iron and vitamin C, it doesn’t need any nutritional assistance to be super healthy. There are studies going on to see if it can treat autism, diabetes, tuberculosis and Crohn’s disease.
In March this year, the European Union approved camel milk for potential import, saying it is more digestible and richer in vitamins than dairy milk. This Christmas, Swiss supermarket Migros will sell a milk chocolate foil-wrapped camel. San Francisco based Chocolate Covered is the only US store that stocks these at the moment.
What about the taste? The chocolates taste slightly sweeter and richer than traditional chocolates, but also cost more, selling for about Dh25 for a bar and Dh530 for a kilo of pralines. It remains to be seen if this sweet ambassador of Arabia will conquer the world.