What's a Good Alternative for Someone Who Doesn't Like the Taste and Texture of Commercial Thickeners?

A fellow caregiver asked...

What's a good alternative for someone who doesn't like the taste and texture of commercial thickeners?

Expert Answer

Most commercial thickeners are essentially modified cornstarch, and -- to me, at least -- some of them do taste pretty nasty. However, it's worth experimenting with different brands, as there are many different thickener products on the market, and they don't all taste alike. (Also, many older people begin to lose their sense of taste, so some of them don't notice as much.) Some people swear by one product or another, depending on what tastes good to them. Since commercial thickeners are convenient, it may be worth experimenting with different ones in case there's one that your family member likes. You can also try adding a bit of lemon juice or other fruit juice to mask the taste of the thickener.

However, in many years of working with people with dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, I've found it's often easier to try substituting thicker liquids instead of using thickener. You can substitute naturally thicker fruit nectars for juice, and make milkshakes in place of milk. Or you can try drinks such as Ensure; some people like the taste of it better.

When it comes to pureed foods, you can thicken them without affecting the taste as much by using simple ingredients from the grocery store. For meat and vegetable dishes, you can use mashed potatoes or baby rice cereal; for desserts you can use tapioca or Jell-O.