Heston Blumenthal’s hospital food challenge
Fat Duck chef working with researchers to improve menu for elderly patients
1st May 2010 - First Jamie Oliver tackled school dinners, now a celebrity
chef is helping to improve hospital food for elderly patients. Heston
Blumenthal will be working with the University of Reading to improve the taste
of NHS food, helping to tackle malnutrition in older people.
No snail porridge
The idea is that if the food tastes better, patients will want to eat more
of it and that will help build up their strength. There’s no prospect of
Blumenthal’s trademark snail porridge coming round on the meals trolley.
Instead the research is focusing on a taste from Japanese food to improve
flavours called umami - the Japanese word for delicious and savoury.
Umami is an ingredient of Marmite and Worcestershire sauce, and is found in
shiitake mushrooms, tomatoes and tuna.
Researchers at Reading’s Department of Food Biosciences at Reading and
Clinical Health Sciences are working with The Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation
Trust, with Blumenthal as a consultant, and will recruit tasters to check their
new recipes on elderly care wards.
Lead researcher Dr Lisa Methven says in a news release: "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
Many hospital meals like cottage pie are based on minced meat, and that will
form the basis of the new recipes. The university team has already been behind
the scenes at the Fat Duck. They are looking at ways of turning techniques from
individually cooked dishes into ones which can be used in NHS mass
In a news release, Blumenthal says, “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."
Two-thirds of elderly patients malnourished
Professor of Elderly Care Medicine at the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation
Trust, Margot Gosney, who is also director of the University's Clinical Health
Sciences, says in a statement: "66% of elderly patients come into hospital
malnourished and, unfortunately, the percentage is even worse when they
“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
However, patients’ groups have pointed out that it isn’t just unappetising
food that results in older people not eating in hospital. The Patients
Association is concerned there are not always enough staff to help at mealtimes
to ensure elderly people get assistance with eating if they need it.
In 2007, the organisation’s National Patient Survey found that more than
16,000 patients did not get help with meals from staff, a state of affairs
which it described as “entirely unacceptable”.