At the time, Dixon was unaware that she had a symptom of covid-19 and that she would become a “long distance” of covid, her sense of taste and smell disappearing for almost a year due to disease caused by the coronavirus.
Ryan Riley is a British chef who has spent the last few months concocting a range of scientific recipes to help people like Dixon enjoy food even if their smell and taste are compromised.
He co-authored the ‘Taste & Flavor’ cookbook, which contains recipes that enhance combinations of flavors, textures, and other sensory elements that can stimulate the blunt senses of a long haul.
“It’s about adding extra sensory excitement to your food,” said Kimberley Duke, a fellow chef and Riley’s childhood best friend who co-authored the cookbook, which is free and downloadable.
With the recipes, they aim, for example, to stimulate the trigeminal nerve – which triggers sensations when consuming foods like mint, wasabi and cinnamon.
They also focus on the visuals for each dish: “You can never forget how much we eat with our eyes,” said Riley, 27.
Consulting with scientists, researchers and patients, they created recipes with texture, bright colors and sour flavors – such as vegetarian pineapple tacos, umami cookies, and vanilla oatmeal. baked with cardamom, raspberry and rose syrup.
Many recipes in the book are based on the work of Barry Smith, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Senses at the University of London. Smith and his colleagues are researching the different ways that covid-19 can alter a person’s senses.
Covid-19 can cause three main types of smell and taste dysfunction, Smith said, including: parosmia, which is a distorted sense of smell; anosmia, which is the partial or total loss of smell; and fantosmia, which is an olfactory hallucination.
About 80% of taste depends on our sense of smell, Smith said, which is why covid-19 patients who have a dull smell also struggle with the taste.
Some 65% of people who have contracted covid worldwide have some form of smell or taste disorder, Smith said, adding that 10% of these cases are long-term and 3% will likely be permanent. . He said people find it frustrating, which is understandable.
“People get very depressed when they lose their sense of smell,” Smith said. “The risks to mental health are great.”
For people struggling with parosmia, there are several common foods that give off a foul smell and taste, including garlic, onions, eggs, roast meats, coffee, chocolate, and, strangely, toothpaste.
“Instead of being familiar and generally desirable aromas, the smell is disgusting. People have talked about a rotten, rotten smell, ”Smith said. “People with parosmia end up resorting to sugary products and not getting enough food.”
Those who suffer from anosmia, or partial loss of taste and smell, can occasionally taste notes of base flavors, like salt, lemon, and sugar. Cooking with items high in umami – like mushrooms, cheeses, and soy sauce – can activate the flow of saliva while also boosting other flavors in a dish, Smith said.
The cookbook, which was released on March 29, includes 17 recipes that focus on texture, umami, layering, and trigeminal nerve stimulation, while removing common ingredients that could be offensive, such as garlic and onions.
“We had to flip everything we know about creating flavor on her head,” Riley said.
For Riley, creating the cookbook was a labor of love. In 2017, he started giving free cooking classes to people suffering from taste and odor loss caused by cancer treatments. He dreamed of opening a non-profit cooking school, he said, after losing his mother to lung cancer at the age of 20.
“I was his primary caregiver, and it was a very traumatic and horrible time,” he said. “During this time, I saw that it wasn’t just the treatment that impacted her quality of life; it was also that she did not like food and that she lost her appetite.
The chemotherapy treatments dulled his mother’s sense of taste, he said, which made meals difficult for her, especially since she was a passionate cook.
Riley was determined to help others with the same common side effect of chemotherapy, and he wanted to do it for free.
“It just seemed to me that something that could be useful should be available to everyone,” he said.
Riley and Duke opened Life Kitchen in 2019 as a free cooking school for cancer patients to teach cooking skills and recipes that can restore the pleasure of eating.
Duke, 28, and Riley have known each other since they were 2 years old. As young adults, they bonded over their shared pain as Duke’s mother also died of cancer and she also lost her sense of taste during treatment.
While working on the project, they gained the support of renowned chefs, including Nigella Lawson – who lost her husband to cancer – as well as some local organizations. They eventually raised enough money to open and operate the school, which is located in Riley’s hometown of Sunderland, England.
After the pandemic struck and loss of taste and smell became a common symptom of covid, the Life Kitchen team stepped up to create an accessible, research-based cookbook.
They started with 300 recipes, and after cutting down on the dishes, they connected with a group of covid long-haulers who were keen to try the recipes and provide feedback. Dixon was one of those people.
Life Kitchen sent him three recipes to try, along with funds to purchase the ingredients, in early February.
Dixon made twists of candied lemon, feta and za’atar; fiery tomato soup with sesame butter toast; and cherry and almond pies. Then she tasted his creations.
“I think it really helped stimulate my taste buds,” she said. “It was absolutely amazing to feel a little sensation after almost 10 months of tastelessness. I could start to taste distinct flavors like vanilla, almond extract, and chili flakes.
She couldn’t taste everything, but it was a start.
“The recipes were really simple and easy to follow,” she says. “And it didn’t take long.
Dixon – whose partner also lost his sense of taste and smell for several months due to covid – enjoyed the recipes so much, she said, that she made them over and over.
“This book is really going to help people,” she says. “It is a global problem and it is important that people do not give up hope.”
Riley and Duke say they’ve heard from many people who have used their recipes wisely.
“We had a wonderful time when people tasted something for the first time in months and they started to cry,” said Riley.
“I just want to give people a little joy in such a dark time,” he continued. “Food is the one thing that unites us all, and we all deserve to enjoy it.”