As we get older our ability to taste food diminishes. Chef Heston Blumenthal has said that, “losing your sense of taste means losing your sense of pleasure” – meaning if food doesn’t taste good, we have no desire to eat it. This can lead to under-nutrition in older people. As a result, Age UK has launched a program to enhance the taste of food to make it more appealing. Dr. Lisa Methven from the University of Reading, who leads the project, believes that enhancing the taste of meals will help to tackle the problem of malnutrition in elderly patients.
Improving Nutrition for the Elderly
She explains that as our sense of taste deteriorates, “it is not possible to gain extra taste buds”, so this project looks at how to enhance food so that older people can still taste it, with the ultimate goal to improve nutrition for the elderly. Salt (sodium chloride) is a popular way of enhancing flavor and taste. However, the sodium content of foods should not be increased as this can cause other health issues, such as hypertension. However, it is possible to increase the umami taste in food, by using foods that are naturally high in glutamate and ribonucleotides.
The idea behind the project is to create dishes that can be cooked in a hospital kitchen. The first experiment in the program involves enhancing the flavor of minced meat. Dr. Methven explains that they will start with a basic formulation, then glutamate extracted from seaweed will be added to the minced meat together with taste components taken from shiitake mushrooms (ribonucleotides). The food will look exactly the same, but there will be extra umami taste to make it more appealing.
The improved meals will be tested at the Royal Berkshire Hospital and introduced nationwide if they prove to be a success in terms of improved nutrition for the elderly.
Learn more: Umami Taste Important for Overall Health