Enjoying Food During Cancer Treatment

Welcome to our monthly recipe blog from Ryan Riley at Life Kitchen

 Ryan Riley is an author, cook and food stylist. He is a co-founder of Life Kitchen, an organisation that provides free cookery classes, events and resources for people with cancer.

One of the lesser-known side-effects of treatment for cancer is a dulling or loss of taste. This can have a huge impact on the lives of people living with the disease, not only physically but also psychologically, leading to feelings of isolation and disconnection from those closest to them.

After losing his mother to lung cancer, and experiencing the impacts her change in taste had, Ryan decided to do something radical to improve the lives of people in a similar situation and this led to the creation of Life kitchen.

Life Kitchen is North-East based, their flagship cookery school is in Mowbray Park Sunderland, Ryan’s home city. However, they take classes all over the UK collaborating with charities and organisations that work with people living with cancer.

Sharing a meal with those closest to us is something often taken for granted. Many of our guests talk to us about feeling as though they are not able to join in or appreciate what someone has made for them. Working with Professor Barry Smith (founding director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses) Ryan uses the science behind taste loss and offers some twists to recipes that can achieve amazing results.

Here Ryan shares some of his tried-and-tested recipes for simple, but delicious dishes which aim to help people living with cancer find enjoyment during tough times and reconnect with the simple pleasure that good food shared can bring.


Sometimes, when your sense of taste has changed and you don’t feel like experimenting, you need food that gives simple comfort. What could be more comforting on a chilly autumnal day than a hearty broth?

In Life kitchen’s recipes, we try to create synergistic umami – this is where other umami-rich ingredients are added to boost the umami and other flavours. It is interesting because boosting the umami flavours in foods helps to also boost the sweet, salty, bitter and sour parts of our palate.

Although this dish is super packed with umami, the flavour is both mellow and deep. Garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, oyster sauce, soy sauce and chicken stock are all umami-rich foods and there’s also a hint of sweetness from the leek and tomatoes that give this broth a balanced flavour profile.

One of the most common mistakes we can all make when it comes to cooking, especially when we are short on time or energy, is throwing all the ingredients into one pan and cooking them at the same time. Sometimes, we manage to create something wonderful, but more often than not it means that we are left unable to distinguish the different flavours and textures of a dish.

This recipe is a great example of how at Life Kitchen we use the layering of ingredients to make dishes more interesting and build upon flavours and textures to give a better overall eating experience.

You could serve the broth with a couple of slices of bread to increase the calories and to make the dish more filling. Or throw in some shredded cooked chicken or a tin of beans – which is a brilliant way to boost the protein content.

The great thing about this recipe is that you can make it go further and save yourself cooking again in the following days: Make a double batch (before adding the pasta) and then half the stock mixture. Cool one half completely, cover and then store in the fridge. It will keep for up to 3 days, and you can then enjoy it in the coming days, with rice or noodles in place of pasta for a bit of variety.

Umami broth minestrone

Serves: 2

2 tsp rapeseed oil
1 leek, chopped
2–3 tbsp garlic puree
10 shiitake or mixed mushrooms, chopped
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 tsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp reduced-salt soy sauce
500ml reduced-salt chicken stock
100g small wholewheat pasta (we prefer hoops or macaroni)
Fresh parsley to serve
Ground black pepper, to taste 

Place a large pot on a medium-high heat, add in the oil and allow it to warm slightly.

Add the leek, garlic, and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are softened, and the leeks are translucent.

Add the diced tomatoes and allow them to soften.

Add the oyster sauce, soy sauce, and chicken stock and bring to a gentle simmer.

Allow everything to simmer for 10 minutes, then add your pasta and cook following the packet instructions or until the pasta is cooked to your liking.

Serve by ladling into bowls with a flourish of fresh parsley.


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