x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Camel sausages: the missing link for the meat's wider appeal?

The Middle East is not short of sausages, but researchers at UAE University in Al Ain are working on ways to turn camel meat into tasty sausages.

Not appealing? Researchers say they are looking into making sausages from camel meat.
Not appealing? Researchers say they are looking into making sausages from camel meat.

AL AIN // From the dark meatiness of the North African merguez, to the small brown makanek from Lebanon, the region will not starve for the lack of a sausage.

Tubes of beef, lamb or even chicken have found their way into cuisines across the Middle East.

But not camel. Its texture and unusual smell have made it unappealing for many. Now, researchers at UAE University are working on ways to turn the meat into tasty sausages.

"We're trying to improve the quality, especially the texture and the odour of camel meat," said Dr Sajid Maqsood, an assistant professor in food science at the university.

"It usually doesn't smell good and it's somehow tough. It's not tender like lamb and beef."

The Dh300,000 project, funded by the National Research Foundation in Abu Dhabi, will add value to the meat, turning it into other more appealing products such as sausages.

"Sausages are one way of utilising this camel meat," Dr Maqsood said. "Recently in the Burj Khalifa they introduced camel-meat burgers, so these can be alternative ways to utilise."

Researchers will use locally bought camel meat for testing.

"We need to make new products," said Dr Afaf Kamal-Eldin, the university's chair of food science. "They have to be tasty and something that children and adolescents will like. We need products on a larger scale."

Few restaurants offer camel meat. Al Bathna restaurant in Abu Dhabi only sells it on special order for events at home.

"We used to sell it before but now it's only lamb," said an Al Bathna employee.

On a global scale, camel accounts for just 0.13 per cent of the meat eaten every year. But Local House restaurant in Bastakiya, Dubai, still keeps some of the UAE's heritage food alive, buying 100 kilograms of local camel meat every week.

"We've had camel-meat burgers and camel biryani since 2004," said Kamal Gararaj, a waiter at the restaurant. "The most popular dish is the burger. We get a lot of tourists who come to taste it because they're curious."

And researchers are hoping their work, expected to take two years, will help give the meat broader appeal.

"We will try and find out how to solve these attributes and provide the consumers in the GCC region with better-quality camel meat," Dr Maqsood said. "Eventually, they could be sold in supermarkets across the country."

The project could also help the UAE produce more of its food locally.

"The important thing is the issue of food security," said Dr Kamal-Eldin. "In a country like the Emirates, you can't produce that much food on an economic scale and the food that you can, like dates and camels, have no added value to them."

So far, the focus has mainly been on camel milk.

"Products are being done from the milk but not from the meat," she said. "Some compounds are different to the cow's [meat] and people aren't used to it so they don't like the texture. But we could find some treatments to mask the odour."

The team is also working on drying dates to grind them into a powder and use them as additives to meat in burgers.

"They're rich in flavour and fibre," Dr Kamal-Eldin said. "It also binds the meat and it hasn't been done here before.

"When we do this type of project that adds value to these products, it will encourage people to raise more camels."

cmalek@thenational.ae