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Plant polysaccharides role on swallowability

Life expectation among the elderly increases every year, therefore it is important to preserve their life quality. Around 22 % of the world population over 50 years of age suffers from swallowing disorders.

 Addition of processed thickeners to foods is the standard treatment however, food becomes less nutritious and appealing reducing the pleasure of eating. In this context, land plants and seaweeds are key to produce more sustainable, healthy and functional foods for the elderly.

Background Food composition and microstructure determine how food flows through the throat down to the stomach, before passing to the intestine, where most nutrients are absorbed. When swallowing is impaired, nutrition is hindered, and especially elderlies become malnourished. According to recent data around 8% of the world populations suffers from swallowing disorders, such as dysphagia, a number that is expected to rise due the increase in life expectation. Ideally, we would like to process foods in a way that addition of extra texturisers is not necessary to produce a food bolus which is easy to swallow for those populations suffering from dysphagia.

Challenge The research question is whether this could be achieved by making use of the natural structuring ability of polysaccharides present in plant based-foods. However,  one of the major scientific challenges to improving our exploitation of plant foods is to rationalise the role of the plant cell wall polysaccharides on food texture (rheology) under  physiological conditions. This understanding will allow an optimal use of plants for food production whilst reducing waste. This project addresses the gap in our knowledge about how plant polysaccharides modulate food bolus flow under the complex conditions of oral processing.

Aim The aim of this project is to reveal how polysaccharides present in plant-based foods can be exploited to tailor food bolus microstructure and swallowability. We combine a material science approach, using a biomimetic mechanical throat and microstructure/rheology data, with predictive mathematical modelling and sensory sciences.


Project name




RISE role in project

Coordinator, Project manager

Project start


3 years

Total budget



Johan Jansson (KTH, Sweden), Ridgway Scott (University of Chicago, USA), Mauricio R Bonilla (Basque Institute for Applied Mathematics, Spain)


FORMAS Future Research Leaders

Project members

Loredana Malafronte

Contact person

Loredana Malafronte


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