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Heston Blumenthal’s hospital food challenge

Fat Duck chef working with researchers to improve menu for elderly patients
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson
heston bloomenthall

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 mortality rates."


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 catering.

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 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."

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”.

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