A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

rainbow around the world: Arabic milk in Belize

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 13, 2006

I spent New Year’s 2000 on a small island off the coast of Belize, celebrating with my then boyfriend J and his family.

J had spent the previous year in Abu Dhabi, and I was already on my path to super-nerd-dom as a Middle East historian-cum-groupie. Belize was a new world for us, or more accurately, for me, since his Spanish found much more use than my Arabic.

This changed on New Year’s Eve. We had gone for supper as a big family group, and at the end of the meal I asked for tea. Tea came, but with no milk. I pouted.

J, familiar with the dangerous signs of early stage tea withdrawal, asked the waitstaff for milk. Hemming and hawing was followed by a whispered conference with the maitre d’. Minutes passed. My pouting continued.

More commotion and conferencing commenced, followed by a waiterly flourish and presentation of … a tin of sweetened condensed milk. My pout turned quizzical: how would this go with my Lipton?

Interrupting my internal kvetch, J exclaimed: little diamond, its Arabic!

And it was:


For almost seven years I have intermittently puzzled – or rather, mulled – over this curious manifestation of Arabic in the Caribbean. At the time, we assumed a shipment destined for the Arab world somehow went astray – or more likely, over-ran its expiration date and was sent at cut-rate prices from one developing world market to another.

This morning at breakfast I looked at my napkin and read “YMCA Three Arches / YMCA Thalath Aqwas”. Hmm, I thought – I never put qaws and arch together before. Arch is qaws, but why is “rainbow” in Arabic “father of the arch”?

It seemed a good time to investigate rainbow and Rainbow, so this afternoon I googled through my lunch and found the answers.

“Abu Qaws” is one term for rainbow, but the more common is “qaws quza7h”, Quza7h’s bow. According to a nifty bit of trivia I picked up from a Pennsylvania community Arabic course website,

“Quzah was the ancient Arabian god of rain, in the time before Islam. Remember when we learned about how the Kacbah in Makkah used to be full of idols of the old Arabian gods, before the Prophet Muhammad came and destroyed all the idols? Well one of those idols they used to worship was Quzah. He was an important god to the ancient Arabians because there was not much rain in the desert. Even though no-one worships him anymore, Arabs still call a rainbow “the bow of Quzah.””


Meanwhile, Rainbow Milk turns out to be a subsidiary of a multi-national called Friesland Coberco Dairy, and has enjoyed great success in the UAE (why J didn’t recognize this after a year of living there is one of the mysteries lost to the shadows of time).

Rainbow has a very self-assured view of its place in its consumers’ hearts:

“Rainbow Milk enjoys a special bond with the Arabs as it was one of the first branded products that entered the region and their lives. Annually, in UAE alone, over 400 million cups of tea are served with Rainbow and approximately 7.5 million litres of Rainbow Milk is used in Tea Shops per annum. This makes Rainbow the largest selling evaporated milk in the UAE.

Rainbow’s popularity is primarily due to its consistency in quality. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that the locals are now addicted to the rich and creamy taste. Besides being used as a tea whitener, Rainbow is also consumed as “drinking milk”, as an additive in desserts and in cooking.”


Friesland also has operating companies in the Caribbean. I now like to imagine that a shipment bound for the UAE and another bound for Belize had a star-crossed Y2K meeting, sending Rainbow to the Caribbean and who knows what to the Khaleej.


4 Responses to “rainbow around the world: Arabic milk in Belize”

  1. Med said

    As a word nerd, I loved this post. I used to sing in a choir in Damascus called qaws quza7h. In the end I had to quit because I couldn’t fit the randomness of the rehearsal times into my schedule. I would sometimes get a message at school saying – important choir practice at 2:30 pm THAT DAY.

    I also remember being taken aback when Mohammad took the can of sweetened condensed milk from my fridge and drank it straight from the tin. Here I know it only for its use in delicious squares involving graham crumbs, chocolate chips, and pecans. Interestingly, I’ve always known these as “eagle-brand squares” named for our most prominent sweetened condensed milk brand. Maybe this year I will call them rainbow squares.

  2. azam peyghambari finy said

    باسلام من ازایران استان اصفهان شهرستان کاشان روستای فین محل شهادت امیرکبیربزرگ تماس میگیرم یکی ازمحصولات شماراتوسط دوستان ملاحظه کردم خیلی خوشمزه بودوخوشم اومدمن گاوداری دارم با روزانه دویست لیتر شیرچگونه میتوانم باشماارتباط داشته باشم محصولات شماراکجابخرم به شهرمابیاییدمن دربست دراختیارتونم من جوانی فعالم وبه عنوان نمونه درشهرواستانم معرفی شدم وتقدیرنامه هایی دارم به امیددیدارشماعزیزان

  3. meret said

    selamunaleykum… I want to learn all kinds of milks prices??? and can u tell me your office adress in Dubai?

  4. Rosemarie said

    I have used the rainbow milk powder in Riyadh Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. I am now in San Antonio Texas and cant find much of anything on dried milk powder

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