Three-Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal has joined forces with a team of scientists at Reading University to develop hospital food recipes.
The Reading University team has been experimenting with introducing umami into British staples such as shepherd's pie to enhance the taste. The long-term aim of the project is to develop a series of recipes that revive older diners' palates. The project is also hoping to work towards combating malnutrition among the elderly.
Dr Lisa Methven, lead researcher, told the BBC that older people suffering from a deterioration in taste don't get an extra taste bud, while they can be fitted with a hearing aid or a pair of glasses. "Our hope is that we can develop foods that older people can get more pleasure out of and enhance their nutritional status," she said.
The recipes have been tested by a range of tasters including a panel of 65 to 85-year-olds. It is expected that once the recipes have been tweaked by the Reading scientists and chefs at Blumenthal's Fat Duck testing laboratory in Bray, Berkshire, it will be trialled on an elderly care ward.
Heston Blumenthal said: "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."
The Patients Association is campaigning to improve nutrition for the elderly in hospital through initiatives like protected mealtimes. Spokesperson Katherine Murphy said they welcomed the research but health leaders also needed to look at issues like staffing.
The three-year project is being supported by the charity Research into Ageing.