Taste changes


Taste changes

By Jane Clarke

August 21, 2019

A change in how you experience the flavours of foods can happen when you’re ill, particularly if you have cancer. Chemotherapy treatment may result in a strange taste in the mouth, which makes it seem metallic, bitter or salty. Other medications, including those for dementia, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and high blood pressure may also cause an unpleasant taste. Taste changes, or an altered perception of food flavours, may also be a result of having issues with your dental health, a cold, or pregnancy. These changes are most often temporary; and eating more flavoursome food can help to override them until they improve.
Pesto from Nourish by Jane Clarke
  • Use herbs and spices to add lots of pungent flavour to your food. Try a punchy basil Pesto with pasta, a zesty Clementine Sorbet, or make a soft dhal flavoured with turmeric and ginger. If your mouth is also sore, some spices may make it feel worse, so build up flavours gradually.
  • Swap sweet for bitter tastes. Perception of salt and sweet flavours may change and you may find that sharp or bitter tastes are more appealing than sweet, so flavours like fresh ginger, liquorice, chilli and garlic can hit the spot. Play around with flavours to see which suit you best. If it's a punchy twist you desire, then think preserved lemons, a little chilli or a simple tangy French-style vinaigrette or lemon or lime juice added to dishes like a salad or steamed vegetables. Wasabi or a miso taste also provide that umami hit.
  • Marinate meat, poultry or game in wine, garlic, ginger, lemongrass or herbs, or serve foods with a strong-tasting sauce, such as a spicy tadka or pungent pesto, or with a drizzle of chilli or herb oil, to pack flavour into classic ingredients. It’s often the blander tastes which seem so banal and pointless in eating, so this could be the time to let rip with some great spices and flavour combinations.


  • Add a sharp pickle or relish to a platter of crisp vegetable crudités, cold meats or cheese. Quince paste goes well with so many great British cheeses and can titillate the taste buds just enough to make you want to tuck in.
  • Have herbal drinks if coffee or tea no longer appeals. Try some fresh infusions such as fresh mint or lemon verbena tea, or a glass of hot water with grated fresh ginger and sliced lemon juice. See my blog post for easy ways to freeze ginger and mint, ready to use any time. Liquorice and fennel can be lovely intense flavours to try and particularly good if you’re feeling a little nauseous.
  • For a metallic taste in your mouth, try a different toothpaste, like one flavoured with stomach-soothing fennel which can help, as can having sips of teas such as ginger, fennel, liquorice, or mint, or sucking on a mint or favourite boiled sweet. Caraway can be a good taste to try to decrease a metallic taste, so look to Swedish-style crisp breads, or roast caraway or fennel seeds with toasted pumpkin seeds for a little nibble. Rosemary and thyme are also good flavours to try, so you could make a light infusion with these and drink as a tea. Switching from metal cutlery to melamine or bamboo alternatives can also help. There are such colourful, cool sets available now, I promise it won’t feel like eating airline food!
For more information on a nourishing healthy diet, see Nutrition Basics.