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TV Chef Backs Hospital Food Project for Elderly

TV Chef Backs Hospital Food Project for Elderly

Photo: Heston Blumenthal and Lisa Methven 

Pioneering research from the University of Reading is being used to enhance the taste of hospital food to help prevent or treat malnutrition in older people. The project is supported by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal.

The research is using a taste central to Japanese food to modify the sensory properties of food to increase its flavour. Deliciousness in foods, especially savoury food, is enhanced by umami – which is known as the fifth taste and is the Japanese word for delicious and savoury.

Umami naturally occurs in shiitake mushrooms, tomatoes and tuna to name a few, and is commonly found in Marmite and Worcestershire sauce for example.

Researchers at the Department of Food Biosciences at Reading and Clinical Health Sciences are working with The Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust and Heston to modify foods so that older patients in particular will find them more flavoursome.

Lisa Methven, lead researcher at the University, explained that the taste compounds are extracted from umami-rich ingredients and then a recipe developed with high levels of umami. Tasting panels help refine the recipe further.

“As people get older their taste and odour thresholds increase so they may need more flavour to taste sufficiently and enjoy food. Malnutrition is a particular problem for older adults in hospital and nursing home settings, and it can result in longer periods of illness, slower recovery from surgery and infection and increased mortality rates,” Methven said.

The research is concentrating initially on minced meat – a staple for many dishes. Researchers have visited Heston’s restaurant, to watch how the chef cooks and develops ideas and to see how these can be recreated in hospital kitchens.

Heston is delighted to be involved as consultant. “Mealtimes should be something to be celebrated in hospital. They should be something to look forward to. Umami is a great way to rejuvenate the dining environment in hospital and improve the flavour in the mouth."

Once the researchers have perfected their recipes, the meals will be trialled on elderly care wards at the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust.

“Sixty per cent of elderly patients come into hospital malnourished and, unfortunately, the percentage is even worse when they leave. When someone comes into hospital they are particularly vulnerable because of infection, or trauma or surgery and we need to make sure they get the nourishment they need to recover. We want to improve the lot of older people,” says Margot Gosney, Professor of Elderly Care Medicine at the hospital and also director of the University’s Clinical Health Sciences.; Source: University of Reading

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