- Title: SAUDI ARABIA: Camel liver popularity increases in Saudi Arabia
- Date: 18th March 2008
- Summary: (MER-1) AL-DAWADMEH, SAUDI ARABIA (FILE) (REUTERS) MORE OF CAMELS IN DESERT CAMELS FEEDING
- Embargoed: 2nd April 2008 09:36
- Location: Saudi Arabia
- Country: Saudi Arabia
- Topics: Lifestyle
- Reuters ID: LVA2FA2A25ZEHMXVDPPQ7T4ZQJL3
- Aspect Ratio: 4:3
- Story Text: Eating Camel liver has become popular in Riyadh, where many believe the food has beneficial health properties For many outsiders, it has become the stereotypical image of the Arabian peninsula: scenes of camels grazing against the backdrop of an endless pristine desert. For inhabitants of Saudi Arabia however, the camel is a symbol of wealth and resilience.
Historically the animal has been respected for its ability to cross arid environments and to withstand the dryness and heat of the desert and travel immense distances with drinking minimal amounts of water.
Camels are big business in the desert kingdom and are traded by Bedouin tribes for thousands of dollars each. The animals are also used for racing, a traditional sport in the Gulf which has caused some controversy recently because of the use of child jockeys.
Traditionally, camels have also been reared for their flesh. The popularity of camel dishes declined in recent decades with the introduction of Western foods to the Arab Gulf region, but now camel meat, and especially camel liver, is enjoying a comeback.
No scientific studies have confirmed the health benefits of camel products on the human diet or their ability to help cure disease, but many Saudis believe the nutritional value of camel meat exceeds that of other types of meat available in the peninsula such as lamb and beef.
''For those who suffer from illness, camel meat is better for them. The cholesterol in camel meat is less. It (the camel meat) is very beneficial.
Lamb meat is good for those who do not have any illnesses and it is good for children. It is also good for people who play sports. But as far as camel meat is concerned, everyone can eat it because it is good for the health,"
said Abdullah al-Dhakneh, owner of a Riyadh restaurant famous for serving camel liver.
At al-Dhakneh's ''House of Liver'', Saudis congregate from the early morning to late at night, indulging in the traditional dish of camel liver.
The wide consumption of this culinary favourite has led the government to perform thorough checks on the animal before its organ is fried or grilled, a health practice previously overlooked.
''There are doctors which follow up (on health and safety) of eating camels. Thirty years ago, camel liver was not checked. It would be slaughtered and that was it,'' said Mohammed Ali, a regular at the restaurant.
Camel meat may be frowned upon in many parts of the world, but in the Middle East, camel meat, butchered in a certain way, is "halal"
(allowed according to Islamic law). It has been eaten for centuries and in some parts of the Middle East inhabitants of the peninsula believe in its health benefits so strongly that drinking water or tea while eating camel meat is believed to reduce the meat's nutritional value.
Along with the establishment of the first compounds which housed western employees of oil companies came the fast food chains. Today, the streets and malls of Riyadh are lined with the likes of KFC and Macdonald's, and Saudi Arabia's obesity and diabetes rates are rising at an unprecedented rate. Camel meat lovers use this as another argument for promoting camel meat as a healthier choice.
''Liver in general is an old traditional dish. It was common before these new and fast (food) dishes were produced. It is definitely better and more beneficial. New food is full of fat and we do not know what is in it or what it has come from,'' said Faisal Ibrahim, another consumer of camel liver.
Thousands of camels died in Saudi Arabia last year from a mystery illness. Consumption of camel meat dropped slightly until it was announced that the deaths were most likely caused by pesticides in camel feed. The emergence of bird flu in Saudi Arabia has prompted inhabitants to reduce their consumption of poultry and increase that of other types of meat.
In some parts of the world such as Kenya, camel blood is served as a source of iron, Vitamin D, salts and minerals.
Despite the purported health benefits of camel flesh, a 2005 report issued jointly by the Saudi Ministry of Health and the United States Centre for Disease Control has associated cases of human bubonic plague with the consumption of raw camel liver.
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