Skip to main content

TV chef backs hospital food project for older people – University of Reading

Show access keys

TV chef backs hospital food project for older people

Release Date 30 April 2010

Heston Blumenthal and Dr 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 and funded by Research into Ageing, the medical research arm of Age UK.

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.

Dr 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.

Dr Methven said: "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."

The research is concentrating initially on minced meat - a staple for many dishes.  Researchers have visited Heston's restaurant, the Fat Duck, 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 a 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.

Margot Gosney is Professor of Elderly Care Medicine at the hospital and also director of the University's Clinical Health Sciences. She said: "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."

Professor James Goodwin, Head of Research at Age UK, the new force combining Age Concern and Help the Aged, said: "With people in later life accounting for two thirds of all acute hospital in-patients, it is essential that more is done to improve nutrition in hospitals. Malnutrition can have a huge impact on the health of people in later life, especially those who are hospitalised, where diet plays such an important role in recovery. We are therefore delighted to be funding this crucial research and look forward to some exciting results."

See team members, including Heston, talking about the project:


For more information please contact Rona Cheeseman, press officer, on 0118 378 7388 or email

Notes to editors

Research title: Taste enhancement of food for the elderly aiming to increase food intake.

The project will finish in 2012.

Food and Nutritional Sciences is the largest University department of its kind in the UK, and has 21 full-time academic staff. It is renowned for its excellence in teaching and research and achieved a rating of '5' in the last Research Assessment Exercise, recognising the national and international quality of, and an 'Excellent' rating in the Teaching Quality Audit. The overall aim of the Department is to deliver international levels of research and teaching in the food biosciences using modern advanced technologies and inter-disciplinary expertise.

Age UK is the new force combining Age Concern and Help the Aged. It will be known by its new name from Spring 2010 -

Research into Ageing, the medical research arm of Age UK, funds research into the causes, prevention and treatment of diseases and disabilities that become more common with age. In order to continue and extend this important research, it urgently needs funds. To donate to Research into Ageing please call 0207 239 1984 or visit

University of Reading

The University of Reading is rated as one of the top 200 universities in the world (THE-QS World Rankings 2009).

  • The University of Reading is one of the UK's top research-intensive universities. The University is ranked in the top 20 UK higher education institutions in securing research council grants worth nearly £10 million from EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC, AHRC and BBSRC. In the RAE 2008, over 87% of the university's research was deemed to be of international standing. Areas of particular research strength recognised include meteorology and climate change, typography and graphic design, archaeology, philosophy, food biosciences, construction management, real estate and planning, as well as law.
  • Standards of teaching are excellent - the University scored highly in the National Student Survey 2009.  87% of Reading students responding to the survey stated they were satisfied with the quality of their course.
  • The University is estimated to contribute £600 million to the local economy annually.

University of Reading is a member of the 1994 Group of 19 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.

We use Javascript to improve your experience on, but it looks like yours is turned off. Everything will still work, but it is even more beautiful with Javascript in action. Find out more about why and how to turn it back on here.
We also use cookies to improve your time on the site, for more information please see our cookie policy.