by Maria K Todd, MHA PhD

CEO and Founder
Mercury Healthcare International, Inc.

When people embark on a medical tourism or wellness adventure, in most instances, they have to eat.

One destination development goal we focus on when developing medical tourism destination strategies is to bring travelers and locals who have an appetite for exploration together with the flavors and cultures of places they travel to undergo health and wellness procedures and treatments.

Epicurean adventures enable medical tourism visitors to visit markets, farms and sample and gather local, fresh ingredients that are part of the local foodie scene. Many experiences include cooking classes alongside expert chefs, nutrition classes, and hands-on learning about how the traditions and customs of a region are reflected in the preparation and seasoning of its food.  As long as the client feels well enough to cook, taste and participate, these health and wellness tourism destination experiences offer one or more chef-prepared meals, training and are served in an unforgettable setting.

In many locations where I've been called upon to help develop a medical tourism destination strategy, it's rare that I haven't recommended specific epicurean adventure programs that leverage local gastronomy into packaged experiences with executive checkups,  cosmetic surgery, and even dialysis tourism. Epicurean adventures are some of the easiest experiences to package together in unique, unforgettable hands-on activities that differentiate one place that offers a total knee replacement from another.  It doesn't matter whether that means a Knish in Canarsie ( a working- and middle-class residential and commercial neighborhood with many Jewish and Italian influences in the southeastern portion of Brooklyn, near New York City) or Paella and Pulpo along a coast in Spain or Bulgogi and Bibimbop in South Korea.

These experiences are affordable, you get to eat what you prepare, learn new techniques and best of all, you don't have to fit souvenirs that don't fit in your luggage and they can keep on rewarding you with techniques, ideas and story-telling value long after your arrive home.

Medicine and Molecular Gastronomy

Techniques such as molecular gastronomy are applied to local ingredients to create modern dishes that blend physics and chemistry to transform the tastes and textures of food.  Some chefs prefer to use terms such as "modern cuisine", "modernist cuisine", "experimental cuisine" or "avant-garde cuisine".  In each case, chefs explore culinary possibilities by borrowing equipment and techniques from the science lab and ingredients from the food industry.  The term molecular gastronomy officially refers to the scientific discipline that studies the physical and chemical processes that occur while cooking.

Molecular gastronomy investigates and explains the chemical reasons behind the transformation of ingredients, as well as the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena. Changing these approaches could mean that one day, foods previously disallowed because of interactions of certain food enzymes that conflict with medications and chronic health conditions can be adapted so that patients can once again enjoy what they want, when and how they want it and still remain healthy.

For example, Miracle Berry (Synsepalum Dulcificum) which I first encountered in my friend's backyard in Hawaii is now cultivated commercially in Taiwan, South Florida, Puerto Rico and Ghana.  Miracle fruit contains a protein called miraculin that temporarily blocks your sour taste receptors on your tongue and alters many other flavors including spicy, salty and bitter. The effect lasts between half hour to an hour depending on the individual and if liquids are consumed.

Visitors to Rehab Institute of Chicago, Rush or University of Chicago Medical Center can visit Moto, a restaurant owned by chef Homaro Cantu, that offers a flavor-tripping experience with certain dishes using miracle berries. His flavor-tripping dishes and cocktails were so successful that Chef Cantu opened his restaurant iNG specifically to highlight the many uses of the miracle berry.  All desserts at iNG are prepared without sugar but they taste as sweet as the real thing after rolling a miracle fruit tablet in the mouth.  Hope for diabetics and people on ketogenic diet programs for wellness or weight loss.

The result of having your sour and bitter receptors blocked is that foods that have a lightly sweet component suddenly taste sweet. Here are a few examples that flavor-trippers have reported:

  • Apple cider vinegar tastes similar to apple juice
  • Dry white wines taste like a Riesling and reds taste more like a port
  • Granny smith apples and cinnamon tastes like apple pie
  • Guinness beer tastes like chocolate milk. Other beers are interesting too.
  • Lemons taste super sweet like candy
  • Limes taste like key-lime pie
  • Under-ripe fruit tastes like the ripest, sweetest fruit you’ll ever eat, and
  • Whole grain bread suddenly becomes healthy cake

Epicurean Adventure Destinations

Many medical tourism destinations offer a wide variety of epicurean adventures

  • Havana, Cuba
  • Seoul Korea
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Kyiv, Ukraine
  • Athens, Greece
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Hamamet, Tunisia
  • Kyoto, Japan,
  • Hong Kong, China
  • Galicia, Spain
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Cairo, Egypt
  • Cebu, Philippines
  • Maui, Hawaii
  • Singapore
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Penang, Malaysia
  • Acapulco, Mexico
  • Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

and many more destinations that await the adventurous medical travel visitor who wants more than a doctor or dentist appointment.