Photo by Cathy Scola/Getty Images

Depends on which foods are involved. Our intrepid reporter takes one for the team. 

Jillian Kramer
November 06, 2017

When Grand Velas Riviera Maya invited me to try its new culinary spa treatment, I didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes.’ But with so few details available about the service, I was left to my own imagination. I pictured two therapists rubbing my shoulders and feet as a third person fed me grapes—or maybe bacon, because everything is better with bacon. And boy, was I wrong. What I had envisioned would be the equivalent of a cheap TV dinner compared to the seven-course fine-dining experience I was served at this Mexican resort.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Do a quick search on your preferred search engine, and you’ll see dozens—nay, hundreds—of culinary spa experiences available at hotels and spas across the country and around the world. At the Jewel Grande Montego Bay Resort & Spa, a coconut indulgence treatment mixes brown sugar with Jamaican coconuts and their milk to eliminate dead skin cells and encourage vibrant skin tone ($180). At Sanctuary Spa at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa the sawan rejuvenating body ritual uses tamarind and pineapple extract to calm skin inflammation and lighten and even skin tones ($235 and up). The Conrad Spa at Conrad Centennial Singapore offers a caviar facial, where caviar is applied during a calming face massage to counteract visible signs of aging ($250). In other words, it’s clear that culinary treatments are having a moment. But do they work?

Some do, according to Janet H. Prystowsky, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist, because “fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients—such as vitamins A, D, and E—easily absorb into our skin, and foods that are rich in these fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients have great impacts on our skin,” she says. Plus, other foods and beverages that can’t boast vitamins may offer “other properties like antibacterial qualities [that make them] great for our skin,” she says.

And when I find out that the entrée, if you will, to my Grand Velas Riviera Maya treatment, dubbed the organic kaab experience, will feature honey, Alex Roher, M.D., a board-certified skin expert, tells me that “honey’s naturally occurring probiotics and enzymes make it an excellent exfoliator—all without stripping the skin of moisture.” He continues, “honey can both draw out and retain moisture, hydrating and plumping the skin, making it gentle enough to use daily to promote clear, bright skin without drying.” In other words, perhaps I should start adding honey to my morning and evening moisturizers instead of my tea.

Now, back at the spa at Grand Velas Riviera Maya, I arrive before my scheduled appointment to enjoy the pre-treatment water journey, which is a six-part experience that begins in a cinnamon-scented sauna—meant to awaken memories—and moves to an ice room, where temperatures dip into the 60s, to stimulate your concentration with scents of cinnamon, then to a steam room piped with eucalyptus, a clay room scented with lavender, a wellness path to stimulate blood circulation in your limbs, and wash off with a vitamin C shower—which smells of oranges—all before I enter the serene, private room where I’ll enjoy the organic kaab treatment. I’m already in heaven.

According to the spa manager, Leticia Fernández, there is a history behind the honey used in this service: many, many years ago: “There once lived a beautiful Mayan woman named Xtabay,” Fernández tells me. “She was a kind soul who gave help to anyone in need. And when she died, a delicate, white flower—with the sweetest fragrance—grew around her grave, a testament from the gods that true virtue comes from the heart.”

That became the Xtabentun flower, which grows in the Quintana Roo peninsula and produces the pollen Yucatecan honey bees—the Melipona bees—use to create the nectar in Mayan honey. In the Grand Velas Riviera Maya’s organic kaab experience, you’re rubbed from head-to-toe in this magical honey.

“Honey is known for being a naturally moisturizing—as well as a pore cleanser, gentle exfoliator, scar fader, acne treatment, and even a hair regenerator,” Fernández says. Combined with chaka tree bark and vanilla, the treatment will “increase muscular energy, improve circulation, and have calming effects.”

Three days after enjoying the treatment, my skin has never felt so soft, so plump. In fact, my skin feels so hydrated that I intend to rub that honey from head-to-toe whenever possible.

*Grand Velas Riviera Maya’s organic kaab experience will be available beginning November 2017, and is $375 per 80-minute treatment. The water journey is available with purchase.

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