It may look like any other piece of cake, but The Unforgettable Cake, produced to celebrate the 70th birthday of one of Australia’s favourite charities Meals on Wheels, is the first of its kind.
Sure, it has layers of biscuit, jelly, and mousse, with flavours that include vanilla, cinnamon and lime, but what sets it apart is its brain-boosting benefits, and the fact it’s been created by leading nutrition and brain experts.
The Unforgettable Cake is thanks to a collaboration between Sydney-based master pastry chef Christopher Thé and Meals on Wheels.
Contributors include experts from UNSW, a scientist from NeuRA, and a dietitian.
The flavoursome treat will be delivered to select Meals on Wheels NSW customers from Wednesday 22 November.
Its ingredients include a selection of foods widely believed to be brain-boosting – such as beetroot, spinach, turmeric, olive oil and blueberries, as well as a range of native ingredients – to promote cognitive health.
According to Professor le Coutre, using his background in food and nutrition science to help conceptualise a cake was new territory for him.
“When I was first approached about this project, I was intrigued by the challenge of creating a cake which may be beneficial to cognition, using ingredients from different food groups, while also providing an experience for Meals on Wheels customers,” he explained.
“Along with Meals on Wheels and a team of specialists, we had to consider both ingredients and texture, including how to minimise sugar, and provide a texture suitable for individuals who suffer from dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), which is a concern for some older Australians.
“Using the currently available scientific evidence, we came up with a list of foods that are understood to provide quality nutrition – which is really important as we age – while still allowing for the nostalgic enjoyment of eating a slice of cake, and then we turned this over to Chris for him to work his creative magic.”
Mr Thé says the project presented by Meals on Wheels NSW prompted him to really think about what can be considered “brain food”.
“When we started out, I wasn’t prepared to guess what foods are actually brain-friendly, and there was a lot of discussion with the nutritionists and dietitians to come up with a cohesive list of ingredients that could be good for people facing cognitive decline,” he said.
“We presented three very different cake concepts to start with, and we went through a lot of testing, varied our approaches, and challenged ourselves to come up with a single coherent cake that both looks good and tastes great, and can be reproduced in the Meals on Wheels kitchen for their customers.
“Great food is simple at its heart, and our final cake has a broad appeal, with a practical texture. The Meals on Wheels team really stressed it should eat like a traditional cake – even though it has unexpected ingredients such as spinach, beetroot and turmeric – and I hope their customers feel a sense of celebration and nostalgia when tasting it, while their interest is also piqued by the complexity of the native ingredients.”
According to Meals on Wheels NSW chief executive officer Les MacDonald, The Unforgettable Cake provides an opportunity to bring attention to an issue that is endemic within the community.
“As we mark our 70th anniversary, we thought it would be timely to have a meaningful conversation about the serious issue of cognitive decline, which includes dementia and Alzheimer’s, and impacts many Meals on Wheels clients and families within our community,” he explained.
“A healthy diet – incorporating ingredients such as those in The Unforgettable Cake – is vital for cognitive health, because the brain is responsible for so many functions within our body, and if it isn’t working properly it impacts on our ability to engage in life and perform daily activities.
“Added to this, social engagement is known to improve brain function, and for many of our clients, a visit from a Meals on Wheels volunteer is the highlight of their week, so if 2/7 we can elicit more happy memories and moments for them just by sharing a slice of cake, it adds another layer to the important role we play in the community.”
The Unforgettable Cake contributors include Professor Dr. Johannes le Coutre, UNSW Professor – Food & Health; Professor Kaarin Anstey, Senior Principal Research Scientist at NeuRA and Director of the UNSW Ageing Futures Institute; and Sharon Lawrence, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Board Member of Meals on Wheels NSW.
The Unforgettable Cake – composition, ingredients list and brain health benefits:
● Strawberry gum biscuit base – Strawberry gum1 is a great source of antioxidants and is considered neuro-protective, while it also contains an essential oil called methyl cinnamate, which helps with mental clarity.
● Beetroot, spinach, turmeric and olive oil cake – Beetroot has special neuro-protective properties that may improve blood flow through the brain, as well as polyphenols, which limit neurodegeneration and may improve cognitive performance. Spinach is rich in brain healthy nutrients such as vitamin K, lutein, folate, polyphenols and beta carotene which may help to slow cognitive decline, prevent memory loss and improve cognition. Turmeric contains the polyphenol curcumin, which reduces inflammation, directly addressing one of the mechanisms associated with cognitive decline. Olive oil is famed for its Mediterranean diet qualities, which include the ability to protect the brain, improve memory, and reduce Alzheimer’s biomarkers
● Desert lime and turmeric agar jelly – Desert lime is rich in antioxidants and lutein, which is beneficial for cognitive health.
● Yoghurt, honey and cinnamon mousse – Yoghurt contains probiotics, which have have been associated with better self-reported memory function. Honey contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which may have a neuroprotective effect. Cinnamon activates the transient receptor potential A1 (TRPA1) channel, involved with a number of health benefits, while also assisting with facilitated swallowing, important for older persons.
● Vanilla ermine frosting- Vanilla contains certain compounds, including vanillin and vanillic acid, that may support brain health, while vanilla is a flavour that is universally loved, triggering positive memories.
● Fresh blueberries, muntries and finger lime – Blueberries are at the top of the list for brain health, contributing essential nutrients including polyphenols, vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese and phytonutrients which help to stimulate the flow of blood and oxygen in the brain, resulting in a lower risk of age-related cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Muntries contain a high level of antioxidants, as well as Vitamins C & E,
which reduce oxidative stress. Finger lime contains Vitamin C, which supports the synthesis of serotonin and norepinephrine.
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