The brain combines gustatory, olfactory, and somatosensory information to create our perception of flavor. Within the somatosensory modality, texture attributes such as viscosity appear to play an important role in flavor preference. However, research into the role of texture in flavor perception is relatively sparse, and the contribution of texture cues to hedonic evaluation of flavor remains largely unknown. Here, we used a rat model to investigate whether viscosity preferences can be manipulated through association with nutrient value, and how viscosity interacts with taste to inform preferences for taste + viscosity mixtures. To address these questions, we measured preferences for moderately viscous solutions prepared with xanthan gum using 2-bottle consumption tests. By experimentally exposing animals to viscous solutions with and without nutrient value, we demonstrate that viscosity preferences are susceptible to appetitive conditioning. By independently varying viscosity and taste content of solutions, we further show that taste and viscosity cues both contribute to preferences for taste + viscosity mixtures. How these 2 modalities are combined depended on relative palatability, with mixture preferences falling in between component preferences, suggesting that hedonic aspects of taste and texture inputs are centrally integrated. Together, these findings provide new insight into how texture aspects of flavor inform hedonic perception and impact food choice behavior.

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