Combating Metallic Tastes When Cooking

Chef Ryan Callahan

Now that we’ve discussed the ideas involved in building an appetite from a distance, I’d like to continue the practical hands-on approach and discuss how to combat metallic tastes inside of the food that you eat. In the previous article we discussed how to build an appetite from a distance by using alluring smells, enticing sights, and even using classical conditioning by utilizing audio cues to train your loved one to become hungry when they hear certain types of music. This is all well and good, but if metallic tastes are present all the pomp and circumstance can fall flat on its face in the presence of bad flavor. In my experience, this is an area that many people struggle with.

Let’s imagine for a second that we’ve gone out to eat at a very fancy and very expensive restaurant, you’ve put on your best attire, and have heard people ranting and raving about this place for months. You finally get reservations, you’ve waited all day to eat, you place your order, and it finally arrives. It looks beautiful, it smells beautiful, the atmosphere of the restaurant is perfect. You pick up your knife and fork. You slowly carve your knife through your entree, pick it up with your fork, you can see the sauce just dripping down the side of your delectable morsel. Each moment is hung onto as the fork edges closer, and closer to your lips. As the fork is within an inch of your face your nostrils are filled with the heavenly aroma of this dish. Finally, you close your mouth around this first bite and brace yourself for what can only be a mind-blowing flavor experience. Except… you don’t taste anything. So you instinctively begin to chew, hoping that will masticate the dish enough to release its flavors. But, it is to no avail, each bite yields no taste, and to make it even worse, each bite brings it closer and closer to tasting like you’re licking a 9v battery. This is the reality of metallic tastes for the average person.

You can see through this visualization exercise how frustrating it can be for someone who is suffering from metallic tastes to get excited about eating. Each bite you take, no matter how enticing, fails to positively reinforce the eating behavior. If anything it begins to break the association of pleasure and eating. So without further ado, I present an excerpt from the upcoming Second Edition of Cooking for Chemo … and After! This section specifically focuses on how to combat metallic tastes.

(The Following is from Cooking for Chemo and After! Second Edition, Lesson 7)

How To Combat Metallic Taste

There are two very effective techniques that, when used in conjunction with each other, work very well to combat metallic tastes.

1: Roundness of Flavor

2: Palate Cleansing

Roundness of Flavor

Remember in Lesson 2 we learned about the flavors we taste with our tongue? We will use the salty, savory, spicy, sour and sweet seasoning method to combat metallic tastes, and give our food a delicious flavor in the process.

The key to this is to remember the flavor preferences that you learned and identified in Lesson 6, apply these preferences into your Roundness of Flavor. Identify the flavors that the cancer fighter preferred and apply them into your cooking naturally. Did they prefer the dish more savory? Did they prefer a little sweetness? Consider these individual flavors as you are cooking to make better tasting dishes.

Keep a tasting journal and log notes about every single food item that is eaten, how they reacted, what tastes, smells or textures worked, and what taste, smells, and textures didn’t work. This will help you stay ahead of the changing intensity of side-effects. This really is crucial. It gives you a road map to work within and help you to visually identify any patterns that are occurring.

By seasoning your dishes according the Roundness of Flavor chart, you give a better tasting product which also helps with loss of appetite and disinterest in food as well. If the dish tastes good, it adds a positive reinforcement to eating and helps retrain your mind that eating is good and not bad. In addition to this, Roundness of Flavor also takes the next concept, Palate Cleansing, and incorporates it into its seasoning method. Remember, sugar follows vinegar.

Palate Cleansing

Palate Cleansing is a simple, but effective technique that you need to know when you are cooking. Palate Cleansing is extremely important to bring balance to dishes that may feel too heavy in your mouth. It is especially useful in taking heavy dishes, like pot roast, and making them more palatable by lightening the perceived weight of the dish in your mouth. Palate Cleansing is where you use acidic sour flavors to create a lightweight feeling in your mouth and on your tongue when you eat food. Palate Cleansing is an easy to apply cooking technique to use on your loved ones with cancer who can only eat a couple spoonfuls of food before becoming exhausted from eating, and most importantly for those who suffer from metallic tastes. These two side-effects generally run hand in hand with each other in my experience.

In addition to this, the following palate cleansing techniques are also of great help in overcoming the most common side-effect of chemotherapy: metallic tastes. By incorporating palate cleansing techniques into your cooking automatically and organically, you will be able to help overcome metallic tastes without giving a second thought. When the palate cleansing technique is applied correctly, you won’t notice it in your food, and will do it automatically in the search for Roundness of Flavor.

3 Ways To Employ Palate Cleansing

Vinegar and Sugar Method

Add 1-2 tablespoons [15-30ml] of red wine vinegar and 1-2 tablespoons [15-30ml] of granulated sugar during the seasoning part of your recipe when cooking. The vinegar lightens the perceived weight of the dish and the sugar masks the flavor of the vinegar. This technique is by far the easiest technique to use while cooking to overcome metallic tastes. A little bit of vinegar goes a long way, and this technique is best used inside of fully cooked one-pot type dishes. Think pot roast, chicken cacciatore, red beans and rice, chicken and dumplings, clam chowder, beef stew, and any recipe with a sauce. This technique works very well inside of sauces. 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar is enough for a 7 quart (6 liter) batch of chicken and dumplings. But each recipe, and patient’s preferences vary. (Remember everyone is unique!) Start with a smaller amount, allow to cook for a few minutes, and then taste. If the dish isn’t light enough, add more vinegar and sugar and repeat the tasting process. Remember to add your seasonings slowly and allow them to cook and give their flavors time to bloom.

Fresh Herb Method

Top your finished dish with fresh herbs that naturally Palate Cleanse.

These herbs are naturally cleansing:

cilantro (fresh coriander leaves)

flat-leaf parsley



This technique adds a delightful, fresh flavor pop to any dish. It also helps with metallic tastes. But, I would not advise using uncooked fresh herbs later in chemotherapy treatments as your immune system may not be able to handle the raw yeasts and bacteria that live on uncooked plants. In the case of basil, you can add it to a hot marinara immediately before serving. This will kill any bacteria or yeasts, and will allow that wonderful fresh basil taste to permeate the sauce.

Citric Acid Method

Use fresh citrus juices in your cooking or squeeze them over the top of your finished food.

This includes:





blood oranges


You may notice the pattern in palate cleansing is that the addition of acidity helps to cleanse your palate. There are many types of palate cleansers, but ultimately the most effective ones are acidic in nature. Fresh squeezed lime over some delicious chicken or pork tacos not only lightens the dish, but gives it a whole new level of character and deliciousness!

I would like you to notice how Palate Cleansing uses sour flavor to combat the weight of a dish. If you follow the proper seasoning order (salty, savory, spicy, sour, and sweet), you will naturally use palate cleansers in the effort to obtain Roundness of Flavor. This offers the secondary benefit of reducing metallic tastes, which in itself will help with disinterest in food and loss of appetite. This was an idea that we discussed in Lesson 2 when we learned about the 5 flavors.

Here are a few ingredients that you can incorporate into your cooking that really help with Palate Cleansing.

Palate Cleansing Ingredients Chart

Palate Cleansing Ingredient How To Use It
red wine vinegar add in the middle of cooking
lemon juice add at the end of cooking
lime juice apply to food before serving
orange juice add during cooking
basil add fresh on top of finished meal
parsley (Italian flat leaf) add fresh on top of finished meal
cilantro (fresh leaves of a coriander plant) add fresh on top of finished meal

One last takeaway from this lesson: Sugar always follows vinegar. Always balance your sour flavors with sweet flavors unless you are intentionally making a sour dish. Sweet really does bring balance to the sour flavors and creates a delightful and enticing flavor combination. You may want to consider lemon-lime flavored drinks, and snacks to help with metallic tastes on the go.

(end of Excerpt)

Hopefully this lesson and visualization exercise enables you to not just empathize for those who are suffering from metallic tastes, but gives you the confidence to adjust for metallic tastes by properly seasoning your dishes, as well as utilizing various palate cleansing methods to help reduce or eliminate metallic tastes in their entirety!


Chef Ryan Callahan is a 2x Gourmand World Cookbook Award Winning Chef. Author of Cooking for Chemo …and After; Cooking for Kids with Cancer; and Chef Ryan’s How-to-Cook Cookbook. He is also the founder of

2 thoughts on “Combating Metallic Tastes When Cooking

  1. What cooking ware would you suggest? My brother has been diagnosed with esophagus cancer and he is starting to get the metallic taste. Can we use non stick pans? I want to be prepared to cook his food so he can enjoy whatever he can manage to eat for the next two weeks.

    1. Hi Laura. Our dietitians do not think non-stick cookware would cause any problems or worsening metallic taste. They suggest focusing more on the utensils he is using to eat as that does contribute to metallic taste. I would add to not drink out of cans (soda, water, etc) – I did not think of that until a patient pointed it out to me 🙂 You can find more tips in our taste changes article –
      And you can always ask to meet with a dietitian at the cancer center where your brother is being treated. Thanks for providing such great support for your brother.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.