SPLTRAK Abstract Submission
Weighing Taste and Smell in Flavor Preference
Victoria Elliott & Joost Maier
Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC, United States

Food is perceived as a multisensory combination of taste and smell known as flavor. Previous work has sought to uncover the mechanisms underlying multisensory flavor interactions using a wide variety of techniques and model systems. These studies have probed various aspects of flavor perception, such as intensity, detection, etc., yielding mixed results. However, perceptual judgments of flavor stimuli are only indirectly related to final food choice. Therefore, how taste and smell components are combined to inform food choice remains unknown. Here, we used rats as an animal model to investigate the role of congruency and unisensory component liking on multisensory flavor preference. Long-Evans rats were exposed to pairs of taste (saccharin, NaCl, umami, sucrose) and odor (amyl acetate, 2-hexanone) stimuli, creating a wide set of experimentally-controlled (in)congruent flavors. After exposure, a one-bottle testing paradigm was used to directly evaluate preference (consumption) for taste only, odor only and or taste-odor mixtures. Overall, animals did not prefer congruent mixtures over incongruent ones. Rather, we demonstrate that multisensory flavor liking is best predicted by a weighted average of individual component liking. We further show that the degree of weight placed on taste/odor components during multisensory flavor judgement does not depend on component liking, but varies between animals. Ongoing work explores the role of component reliability on taste-odor weighing.