Jamie Oliver has done it for school food - and now Heston Blumenthal is hoping to revolutionise hospital meals.

The chef, whose Fat Duck restaurant was named third best in the world earlier this week, is working on a project to improve food for elderly patients.

Those who prefer traditional fare need not worry, however, as the menu will be free of his more outlandish dishes such as snail porridge and bacon and egg ice cream.

Instead, he is collaborating with the University of Reading and the town's Royal Berkshire Hospital to increase the flavour of well-loved dishes including shepherd's pie and make them more attractive to older people, whose sense of taste often deteriorates.

The meals are to be enhanced by increasing their umami properties - the Japanese word for delicious and savoury which is often described as the fifth taste, alongside sweet, sour, bitter and salty. They will initially to be tried out on patients at the Royal Berkshire Hospital next year, after a lengthy period of research and testing, and it is hoped the project could then be rolled out nationwide.

Blumenthal, visiting the university on Friday to officially launch the scheme, said he was pleased to be involved as a consultant and added: "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."

Dr Lisa Methven, lead researcher at the university, said malnutrition in elderly people was a concern.

She said: "It's not a new problem, but it's a growing problem. There are many reasons for under-nutrition, but people can lose their sense of taste as they get older, and illness and medication can make it worse. We're not trying to produce new food, but to create things that can be implemented in a hospital kitchen like gravy and shepherd's pie - things that are familiar to people."

The three-year project, which is in its first phase, involves scientists working alongside Blumenthal, initially on enhancing the flavour of minced meat. The team is experimenting with adding the savoury properties found in foods including shiitake mushrooms, parmesan cheese, anchovies and Worcestershire sauce.

Researchers have visited The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, to watch Blumenthal at work and see how his ideas can be transferred to hospital kitchens.