The cookbook helping cancer patients enjoy food again

Using the five principles of flavour, the recipes in Life Kitchen’s new cookbook prove that food is a big part of recovery, both emotionally and physically, says Hannah Twiggs

Friday 24 September 2021 21:06

For many people who are affected by cancer, food can seem unappealing and many people lose their appetite altogether,” says Ryan Riley, co-founder of Life Kitchen, a not-for-profit cookery school for people whose taste has been affected by cancer or its treatment. “This is a really difficult side-effect that can make mealtimes isolating and unenjoyable.”

After watching his mum struggle with the experience, Riley was inspired to set up the not-for-profit cookery school with his co-founder Kimberley Duke. “I believe that food is a big part of recovery, emotionally and physically,” Riley adds.

Flavour and Nutrition is Life Kitchen’s newest cookbook and latest collaboration with the World Cancer Research Fund. It features 15 brand new recipes, each one paying special attention to flavour and texture, with the aim of helping cancer patients rediscover and enjoy food again.

On top of the symptoms caused by cancer itself, treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery can cause side effects that can affect the way food and drink tastes – common complaints include food tasting bland, all food tasting the same, or experiencing a metallic or chemical taste in your mouth. Cancer treatment may also make it more difficult to fully absorb nutrients from food.

“Significantly, 8 in 10 cancer patients tell us that they haven’t received any dietary support as part of their treatment,” says Matt Lambert, senior health information officer at the World Cancer Research Fund. “Alongside our joint online cookery classes, we want to ensure that as many cancer patients as possible will rediscover the joy of food.

“What’s more, each of the 15 recipes in Flavour and Nutrition have been designed to follow World Cancer Research Fund’s healthy eating guidelines, making them suitable for everyone,” Lambert adds.

The book explains the science behind Life Kitchen’s “principles of flavour”, which are: umami, smell, texture, layering and stimulating the trigeminal nerve. Each recipe in the book has been carefully created to satisfy specific requirements that people undergoing treatment for cancer might have - whether it’s a cooling dish to ease mouth ulcers or a recipe to tackle nausea.

Here’s three recipes from the book.

Apple and ginger compote with yoghurt


Ginger is an ingredient that has long been used as a traditional remedy for nausea, something that lots of people going through cancer treatment have.

Although there isn’t strong scientific evidence to back up the claim that ginger is an effective remedy, we’ve used it here for its flavour and aroma.

Apples are an excellent base for a compote because of their high pectin levels, which is a natural thickener and provides silkiness. The mellow flavour of apple also allows the ginger to really zing.

We like to serve the hot compote with cold yoghurt to make this recipe exciting for the senses. Adding the granola also adds an interesting and varied texture. Any leftover compote can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.


Apples are not only a good source of fibre, but they also contain a range of different antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that are important for our health.

The yoghurt in this dish provides a really good source of protein as well as being naturally rich in calcium. Foods containing live bacteria may also help your gut health.

Serves: 4


3 large apples, peeled and chopped into small pieces; pink ladies are our favourite

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

1½ tbsp sugar

3cm piece ginger, grated

500g fat-free Greek yoghurt

100g granola, to serve


1. Place the diced apples into a medium saucepan, add the vanilla and sugar, along with 5 tablespoons of water. Stir everything together and bring to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes. Once the apples have softened and become translucent, add the grated ginger. Stir well and cook for a further 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the apple to cool for 10 minutes.

2. To serve, split the yoghurt between 4 bowls and spoon over a couple of tablespoons of apple compote. Finish with a sprinkling of your favourite granola.

Top tip: If you are trying to keep your weight up, you can use full-fat Greek yoghurt instead to increase the calories of the dish. Experiment with different types of yoghurt to see what you like - natural, Freek, kefir. Each has different nutritional values, so check the label to make sure it’s meeting your needs.

Nutrition information (per serving): Calories: 257; protein: 12.8g; fat: 3.1g; sugar: 25.6g; salt: 0.3g; 5 a day: 1.

Sticky mango potatoes with mint and avocado


One of the most common mistakes we all make when it comes to cooking is throwing all the ingredients into one pan and cooking them at the same time. Sometimes, it can yield something beautiful, but often it means we’re unable to distinguish the different flavours and textures of a dish.

Layering can be about putting together hot and cold foods to create something more interesting for your senses.

This recipe has hot, cold, sweet, salty, tangy, and spicy elements, all added to help boost flavour and make eating more pleasurable.


Avocados are well known for being a good source of heart-healthy unsaturated fats. This nutritional powerhouse is also rich in fibre, and contains a wide range of different vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin E, a number of B-vitamins and potassium. It’s also a great energy-rich food.

The mango in the recipe provides additional fibre which is important for a healthy digestive system. They also contain antioxidants and are especially rich in vitamins A and C - both of which help to support our immune system.

Serves: 2


For the mango potatoes:

12 new potatoes

1 tbsp vegetable oil

½ tsp roasted garam masala (a blend of roasted spices)

2 tbsp mango chutney

½ fresh mango, diced into small pieces

For the avocado chutney:

1 small avocado

2 tbsp soured cream

1 lime, zest and juice

1 green chilli

A few coriander leaves

A few mint leaves - keep a few for sprinkling over the top

Ground black pepper, to taste

To serve:

Pink pickled onions


1. Preheat the oven to 200C/fan 180C.

2. Place the potatoes onto a large baking tray, drizzle over the oil and a sprinkle of pepper. Place into the middle of the oven to roast for roughly 25-30 minutes, until golden brown and tender.

3. In the meantime, add the ingredients for the avocado chutney into a food processor and blend until smooth. If you don’t have a processor, you can use a fork to mix together the sourced cream and avocado and finely chop in the other ingredients. Then pop into the fridge to keep cool.

4. Once the potatoes are cooked, add the garam masala and lightly crush the potatoes with the back of a fork. Then add in the mango chutney and fresh mango. Mix well to coat the potatoes.

5. Spread the avocado chutney on a serving plate and place the potatoes on top. Finish with a sprinkle of mint.

Serving suggestion: This is ideal on its own (or as a side dish), or for a bigger meal serve with a portion of protein such as a chicken or turkey breast, or for a plant-based protein, add a portion of pulses (beans, peas or lentils).

Nutrition information: Calories: 407; protein: 6.5g; fat: 18.8g; sugar: 15.8g; salt: 0.6g; 5 a day: 1.

Marmite pasta with porcini and lemon breadcrumbs


The deep, rich intensity of umami is key to great-tasting food.

This dish is inspired by a Nigella Lawson classic. It takes the depth of Marmite and transforms it into a luxurious sauce boosted by umami-rich mushrooms and zesty, scent-stimulating lemon breadcrumbs.

The combination of Marmite, mushrooms and parmesan creates synergistic umami (or super-umami). When we layer umami ingredients this way, we create food that is powerfully flavoured and delicious.


This dish provides a good source of protein, which is important for healthy muscles and bones. It’s also high in fibre - something that is really important for our overall health, but is lacking in many of our diets.

Adding Marmite (a yeast extract) provides a good source of vitamin B12 - an essential vitamin that helps to form normal red blood cells and which helps to carry oxygen and nutrients around our bodies. Yeast extract is one of the few foods suitable for vegans that provide a good source of B12.

Serves: 2


150g wholemeal pasta

20g butter or spread

1 tbsp Marmite

150g spinach

3 tbsp wholemeal breadcrumbs

A small handful of dried porcini mushrooms

1 lemon, zest and juice

20g parmesan

Ground black pepper, to taste


1. Preheat the oven to 200C/fan 180C.

2. In a medium pan, cook your pasta following packet instructions.

3. In a small saucepan, melt the butter (or spread) and Marmite over a medium heat. Add in the spinach until just wilted and set aside. Whizz the breadcrumbs in a food processor with the dried mushrooms and lemon zest. Spread evenly onto a baking tray and toast in the oven or under the grill until golden brown.

4. Once the pasta is cooked, drain, keeping a ladleful of the pasta water. Add the ladleful of pasta water into the Marmite butter sauce and stir to combine. Then add in the pasta and mix well until it is covered in the silky-smooth sauce.

5. Transfer to a plate and serve with a large sprinkle of breadcrumbs. Finish with a sprinkle of parmesan and lemon juice.

Top tip: Instead of dried mushrooms you can also use finely chopped fresh mushrooms.

Nutrition information per serving: Calories: 465; protein: 21.2g; fat: 14.8g; sugar: 4g; salt: 1.2g; 5 a day: 1.

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