Did Boris Johnson lose his sense of taste after Covid battle? PM praises recipe book for people with Long Covid who found coffee tasted like ‘fruity sewage’ – saying he has ‘a renewed interest in diet and cookery’
- Ryan Riley and Kimberley Duke offer cookery lessons to cancer patients with dulled taste buds – and were asked to to adapt recipes for people with Covid
- This week Boris Johnson wrote to Riley and Duke praising book, Taste & Flavour, saying it was helping people ‘maintain access to a home-cooked meal’
- Many with the virus have reported anosmia – the loss of smell affecting taste, and parosmia, when taste is changed – often making foods repulsive
- Chocolate, coffee, roast meats, onions and garlic are often the main culprits
- The Prime Minister was admitted to intensive care with the virus in March 2020 and told the duo he had a ‘renewed interest in diet and cookery’ since recovering
The Prime Minister has poured praise on two cooks who worked with sensory scientists to devise recipes to help Long Covid patients enjoy food again – telling the duo he has a ‘renewed interest in diet and cookery’ since he was struck down with the virus in March 2020.
Boris Johnson congratulated cooks Ryan Riley and Kimberley Duke over their free recipe book Taste & Flavour, which was published earlier this year, saying in a Downing Street letter written on his behalf that their recipes had enabled people to ‘maintain access to one of life’s great pleasures: a home-cooked meal.’
Anosmia, a complete absence of smell and taste, has been widely reported as a common symptom of the virus but many, particularly those with Long Covid, have also said they’re experiencing parosmia, when flavour is drastically distorted with foods including chocolate, roasted meats and garlic rendered ‘disgusting’ by the condition. The condition can leave coffee tasting like ‘fruity sewage’ and a roast dinner ‘repulsive’.
While it is not clear whether Mr Johnson was directly affected by parosmia or anosmia, his letter makes clear that the Prime Minister is more conscious of his ‘diet and cookery’ since his admission to intensive care with the virus last year.
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The Prime Minister, who was admitted to intensive care with the virus in March 2020, praised the recipe book for Long Covid patients, saying he had a ‘renewed interest in diet and cookery’ since recovering from the virus himself
Cooks Ryan Riley and Kimberley Duke offer cookery lessons to cancer patients with dulled taste buds – and were asked to to adapt recipes for people with Covid. The resulting book, Taste & Flavour, has been praised by the PM
MailOnline has contacted Downing Street for comment.
Posting on Twitter an image of the letter, Riley, who lives in Brighton but is originally from Sunderland, wrote: ‘I sent ‘Taste & Flavour’ to all goverment departments, this morning I got a letter from Boris’s office saying because of his personal experience with covid he’d taken a renewed interest in diet and cookery and that we have shown the nation a great kindness by making it free.’
Riley and co-chef Duke, who normally devise recipes to help cancer patients with taste buds dulled during chemotherapy, spent four months inventing and testing dishes that avoid ‘trigger’ ingredients for parosmia.
The pair consulted taste experts including Professor Barry Smith from the Centre for the Study of the Senses and Dr Duika Burges Watson, from Altered Eating, which helps people affected by smell and taste changes.
The resulting cook book centres around recipes that focus on ‘umami’ – the savoury taste we experience when eating food. Foods rich in umami include mushrooms, tomatoes, Parmesan, soy sauce and miso.
Duke and Riley, pictured, founded Life Kitchen in 2017, offering cookery lessons to cancer patients with dulled taste buds. Last year, they were asked to adapt recipes for people with Covid and Long Covid who’ve been left with a distorted sense of taste. Their new free book of ‘safe’ recipes, Taste & Flavour, was published earlier this year
A zesty corn soup and spicy beans had to go back to the drawing board, says Riley, after the cooks tried to use sriracha – which contains garlic – and were told by testers with distorted taste buds that it tasted ‘horrible’ to them. Tabasco, garlic free, was eventually used to make it work
One of the recipes featured in Taste & Flavour: Apple and ginger lollies with shichimi togarashi dip. The book’s authors have tested recipes extensively on Covid and Long Covid patients reporting a loss or distorted sense of taste
LOST YOUR SENSE OF TASTE? TIPS FOR PACKING IN FLAVOUR
Umami – literally ‘pleasant savory taste’ – is key
It’s non-triggering for people with parosmia and found in ingredients such as tomatoes, soy sauce, miso and Parmesan. Pair ingredients to maximise flavour
Longstem broccoli with sesame and almond dipping salt is one of the dishes in Taste & Flavour
Play with texture
Enliven a dulled sense of taste by adding in different textures. Try to combine soft with crispy or crunchy with smooth to make food feel more appealing.
A dash of spice
Reach for the chillies; the mouth’s TRPV1 receptors are super sensitive to the capsaicin in the fiery pepper.
Riley and Duke run Life Kitchen, a free cookery school founded in 2017 for people whose sense of taste has been affected by cancer.
The idea was inspired by Ryan’s own ‘horrible’ experiences watching his late mother Krista be stripped of her taste buds after treatment for small cell lung cancer when he was 18.
In the letter from Downing Street, the Prime Minister also praised Riley for taking positive action after losing his mother.
It read: ‘Many people will relate to the difficulties you have highlighted and your imaginative and thoughtful contribution to modern gastronomy is a testament to your upbringing’
In late 2020, as more and more cases of parosmia came to light, Riley and Duke decided to try and adapt some of their recipes for Covid patients.
The result, 12 ‘frantic’ weeks and several re-writes on, is Taste & Flavour, a free cook book that has seen Covid and Long Covid patients devoid of a normal sense of taste help them test dishes that people in the throws of parosmia can still enjoy.
Some recipes were quickly returned with a thumbs down verdict, says Riley. A zesty corn soup and spicy beans had to go back to the drawing board, he explains, after the cooks tried to use the hot sauce sriracha – which contains garlic – and were told by testers that it tasted ‘horrible’ to them. Tabasco, garlic-free, was eventually used to make it work.
Professor Barry Smith, who worked with Riley and Duke on the book, told FEMAIL earlier this year that, for most people affected, normal taste will eventually return, and that food – including chocolate, coffee, roast meat and eggs – suddenly tasting very odd is actually a sign that taste buds are recovering. For some though, he admits, taste may never return in the same way.
He explains: ‘We know that lots of people have moved from having anosmia to having parosmia, a terrible condition that happens when the olfactory receptors are regenerating but the wiring is somehow faulty.
‘At this point, lots of familiar smells are now perceived as very distorted – and usually they taste disgusting.
‘For example, people usually find coffee foul, the best description I’ve had of it is that it’s like “fruity sewage”, another said it “smells like a harbour at low tide.”‘
Riley says he and Duke started the project by devising recipes that eliminated ‘trigger foods’, things like garlic and onions, and focused on the safe taste known as ‘umami’.
He says: ‘Our taste buds can pick up five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and possibly the most important of our tastes, umami – it’s the savoury flavour that you taste in meat, soy sauce and miso, example.
‘There’s ‘synergistic umami’ too, where two types of flavours work together, with the most famous example being chips and ketchup – that’s basically a super umami. It also helps fire the other tastes so you get more chances to enjoy the food.’
Fiery tomato soup with sesame seed butter toast: chilli can help people with parosmia, say taste experts, because the mouth’s TRPV1 receptors are super sensitive to the capsaicin in the pepper
The duo used ‘super umami’ combinations to pack as much flavour in as possible as well as using texture, temperature and appearance to make food appear more enticing.
Recipes in Taste & Flavour include snacks, full meals and desserts, with dishes such as Preserved Lemon, Feta & Za’atar Twists, Mushroom & Blue Cheese Mac ’n’ Cheese and Apple & Ginger Ice Lollies with Shichimi Togarashi Dip.
The book, which cost £20,000, was funded by Sunderland City Council Covid relief fund and created in partnership with Greek and Mediterranean food supplier Odysea. It’s available as an e-book or there’s a £3 postage charge for a physical copy.
Ryan says the book being free is hugely important to himself his co-cook, Kimberley.
‘Life Kitchen classes have been free since day one.
When my mother was ill with cancer, if we’d have been able to go to a cookery class that was free, we would have gone to them.’
THE BOOK THAT IMPRESSED BORIS: THREE ‘TASTE SAFE’ RECIPES FROM TASTE & FLAVOUR
Preserved lemon, feta and za’atar twists
1 x 320g (11 1/4oz) sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry
100g (3 1/2oz) Odysea Greek feta, crumbled
50g (1 3/4oz) crème fraîche
2 teaspoons chilli paste
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
2 Odysea preserved lemons, blitzed or finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons za’atar, plus extra to finish
FOR THE DIP
3 tablespoons full-fat natural yoghurt
1 tablespoon chilli paste
Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/Gas 6.
Unroll your pastry on to a baking tray, leaving the baking paper it’s wrapped in underneath. With a longest edge closest to you, use a sharp knife to slice the pastry sheet in half top to bottom.
In a bowl whisk together the feta, crème fraîche, chilli paste, chilli flakes and blitzed preserved lemons until combined. Spoon the mixture on to one of the cut pastry sheets and spread it out evenly using the back of the spoon. Place the other half of the pastry on top, and cut the pastry sandwich, top to bottom, into approximately 2.5cm (1in) strips to give 4–6 strips altogether.
Holding both the top and bottom of each filled pastry strip, turn one end a couple of times, until you get the signature twist. Return each twisted strip to the lined baking tray.
Combine the beaten egg and the za’atar in a bowl to create a wash. Brush the strips with the wash, then bake for 25–30 minutes, until crisp and golden brown.
While the twists are baking, make the dip by simply mixing together the yoghurt and chilli paste in a bowl. Remove the twists from the oven, then finish with an extra dusting of za’atar. Serve with the dip alongside.
Mushroom and blue cheese mac ’n’ cheese
400g (7oz) dried pasta of choice (we used chifferi rigati)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
100g (3 1/2oz) shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1⁄2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
zest and juice of 1 lemon
470g (1lb 1oz) jar of béchamel (white) sauce
90g (3 1/4oz) blue cheese of choice, crumbled
100g (3 1/2oz) parmesan, finely grated, to serve (optional)
FOR THE BREADCRUMBS
2 slices of your choice of bread
a large handful of basil, leaves picked
Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/Gas 6.
First, make the breadcrumbs. Place the bread and the basil leaves in a food processor and blitz to fine crumbs. Tip the crumbs on to a baking tray and bake in the centre of the oven for 10 minutes, until golden.
Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and add the pasta. Boil according to the packet instructions until al dente. Reserve a cupful of the cooking water.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large frying pan over a high heat. When hot, add the mushrooms and pepper and fry for 5–6 minutes, until the mushrooms are golden brown.
Add the lemon zest and juice and cook for a further 1 minute to allow the mushrooms to absorb some of the juice. Add the béchamel sauce and cheese, then stir occasionally, until the cheese has melted.
Drain the cooked pasta and tip it into the pan with the sauce. Stir well, cook for 2–3 minutes, until the sauce has thickened around the pasta (add some reserved pasta water, if it’s looking dry), then serve sprinkled with the breadcrumbs for texture, and a little parmesan, if you wish.
Cherry and almond tarts
200g (7oz) cherries, pitted
zest and juice of 1 orange
50g (1 3/4oz) golden caster (superfine) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
120g (4 1/4oz) ground almonds
2 teaspoons almond extract
100g (3 1/2oz) unsalted butter, melted
4 individual sweet pastry tart cases
50g (1 3/4oz) icing (confectioners’) sugar
2 tablespoons freeze-dried raspberries (optional)
Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/Gas 6.
Place the cherries in a small saucepan along with the orange zest and juice, the caster sugar and the vanilla. Set the pan over a medium–low heat and heat through for 5–6 minutes, until the cherries are beginning to soften and the sugar has dissolved to form a syrup.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, stir the ground almonds and almond extract into the melted butter to form a paste.
Place the pastry cases on a baking tray and spoon an equal amount of softened cherries into each case, trying not to spoon in too much of the cooking syrup at the same time. Reserve the syrup.
Spoon 1 tablespoonful of the almond mixture on top of the cherries, using the back of the spoon to spread it out into a mound. Bake the tarts for 15–20 minutes, until the tops are lightly golden. Remove from the oven and leave in the baking tray until completely cool (about 15–20 minutes).
Make the icing. Tip the icing sugar into a large mixing bowl and spoon in 6 tablespoons of the reserve cherry syrup. Stir to a smooth paste and even pink colour. Using a teaspoon, drizzle the icing back and forth over the tarts. Finally, sprinkle with the freeze-dried raspberries, if using.
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