Rice is one of the most highly consumed staple foods worldwide, from Africa to Asia to Latin America. It makes up about 16.5% of the global caloric intake, which represents more than 1.6 billion people, making it a greatly regarded source of nourishment. There are various methods to prepare this hearty food, such as by open pot boiling, using a pressure cooker or stovetop, and even microwaved. This article will focus on the use of rice cookers. Continue reading to learn more!
What is a rice cooker?
A rice cooker is an automated kitchen appliance typically designed to steam or boil rice, with its cooking mechanism mainly consisting of three components: a heat source, cooking bowl and thermostat or heat sensor to regulate the temperature.
When was it invented?
A primitive rice cooker, which was essentially a rectangular wooden box with two electrodes attached at each end, was sanctioned by the Japanese Imperial Army in 1937. However, this rice cooker was not suitable for home cooking nor was it safe as it presented a high risk of electrocution.
What is the history behind it?
Rice cookers, which was a term originally applied to manual/non-automated rice-cooking utensils, were created to remove the need for constantly visually monitoring rice as it cooked, which was necessary to prevent it from getting burned. These electricity-supported automated rice cookers were created in Japan.
Since the primitive design was impractical for wide usage, the first electric rice cooker was manufactured by the Japanese Mitsubishi Electric Corporation in 1945. Its design was no longer of a rectangle, nor was it made out of wood; it was an aluminum pot with a heating coil inside. The downside was that did not have an automatic turn off feature, thus causing the rice to be ‘cooked’ continuously and requiring constant monitoring.
After many trial-and-error attempts by various makers, the first successful rice cooker was invented by Yoshitada Minami for Toshiba Electric Corporation in 1956. Their model was practical as it was designed with a triple-chamber which provided heat insulation via air layers, thus eliminating the issue found in the 1945 model by the Japanese Mitsubishi Electric Corporation.
However, the model that Toshiba Electric Corporation eventually commercialized to the market adopted a double-chamber indirect cooking method; this involved putting rice into a rice pot, which was then placed into a container filled with water, hence the term ‘double-chamber’. What made the cooking method indirect was that as heat was generated, the water in the container boiled which, in turn, increased the temperature of the rice pot. This high temperature activated a bimetallic thermostat which automatically turned off the cooker, stopping any further heat from reaching the rice pot and preventing the cooked rice from burning.
Over time, rice cookers became more efficient and precise. Popularity of high-end models with unique materials also grew.
The bimetallic thermostat slowly became replaced in the 1980s with microprocessors in high-end electric rice cookers to help regulate the cooking process. These microprocessors were also combined with an electric timer and a battery-powered memory. There were also high-end electric rice cookers that incorporated induction heating, which controlled heat more precisely.
Starting from the 1990s, new features began to be introduced, including a variety of cooking settings for other food asides rice, such as other kinds of grains, cakes, and breads, providing a steam function, and allowing users to select their own desired cooking results.
The inception of deluxe rice cookers incorporating uncommon materials began in the 2000s. This includes models with inner cooking bowls made from non-metallic components, which aided in improving the taste of cooked rice, or of hand-carved pure carbon, which was developed by Mitsubishi in 2006 in an effort to launch a better heat generating profile than induction heating. The latter became one of the most expensive rice cookers on the market at the time, at over $1,400, but the hefty price tag did not hinder customers from buying it. This even set the trend for premium or very high-end rice cookers; one can now find rice cookers that come with rice bowls coated with ceramic-iron, copper or even diamond!
How does a rice cooker ‘know’ when the rice is done cooking?
Since the rice cooker was made to remove the need for monitoring rice as it cooked, creators must have invented a function that, in some way, ‘alerts’ the appliance that the rice has been fully cooked, thus systematically instructing it to switch off its heat source and end the cooking process.
Technically, the ‘alert’ is triggered by when the inner pot’s temperature has arisen to boiling water point, 100° C, which is typically when water would have boiled away, leaving behind cooked rice. Though there are various ways for a rice cooker to pick up that the inner pot has reached that temperature, the original patent was that a contact magnet would be used to keep a switch, keeping the circuit to the heating element, closed.
This is because when contact magnets get hot enough they temporarily lose their magnetic property. A permanent magnet, on the other hand, would lose its magnetic property entirely. Therefore, when water boils away, the only items that continue to be heated are the inner pot and cooked rice, which would cause the internal temperature to rise above 100° C. The contact magnet then loses its magnetic properties due to from getting too hot. This causes it to let go of the switch, disconnecting the circuit to the heating element and putting it into warm mode. The contact magnet later regains its magnetic property from a permanent magnet also installed in the appliance.
How is a rice cooker cleaned?
A typical rice cooker has three standard parts that can be cleaned.
Inner rice pot
- Take the inner pot out and fill with dish water.
- Leave the filled pot for at least half an hour to allow any remaining rice, that had been sticking to the inside of the pot, to unstick.
- Pour out dish water with rice remains.
- Wash inner pot with clean water and dish soap using a sponge or wash cloth.
- Rinse and dry the inside and outside of the pot completely.
Underside of the rice cooker lid
- Wipe the underside of the lid with a damp cloth.
- Dry it with a clean cloth.
- Clean the underside after each use.
- Once the heating plate has cooled down completely, wipe it with a damp cloth.
- Dry it with a clean cloth.
What are common types of rice cookers nowadays?
There are typically four types of electric rice cookers on the market:
Standard rice cooker
This kind of rice cooker is really narrowed down to the basics and has the necessities required for simple functions of making decent quality rice and keeping it warm. The main characteristics that these models have are that they come with a detachable power cord and non-stick inner rice pot; automates cooking process and switches to ‘warm mode’ once rice is done cooking; and are extremely simple to operate as the user simply needs to add rice and water into the inner rice pot then press a button to start the cooking process. Standard rice cookers are commonly available in various sizes and are relatively affordable.
Improved rice cooker
This type of rice cooker is essentially a standard rice cooker with a few additional features, such as having settings which allow the user to choose the type of rice that will be cooked, steaming options, warming and extended warming, and/or a built-in digital countdown timer. The rice quality is slightly better than the quality made from standard rice cookers, albeit are still relatively affordable.
Multifunction rice cooker
These rice cookers are a more advanced model from improved rice cookers and, therefore, encompass all their features with a few more. They can also cook more than one type of rice in various forms, such as sushi rice or rice porridge. Their models incorporate expanded control technology, detachable lids or LED screens or control panels. The quality of rice tend to be even better than the quality made by improved rice cookers. With more features and increased sophistication, their price tags are likely to be in the mid-high range.
Induction heat rice cooker
Lastly, this rice cooker model is considered high end as it is essentially a highly technological kitchen appliance. It embeds multiple rice cooking settings, for various kinds of rice like jasmine rice and sushi rice, and is capable of various cooking tasks. Where a standard rice cooker uses thermal induction to transfer heat to the inner rice pot, an induction heat rice cooker uses a magnetic field which transfers more constant heat on a more consistent basis to the inner pot. Their main characteristics include digital control pads featuring various functions and cooking settings; warming and extended warming; produces high quality rice; and consumes more energy. As a result, its price is relatively high.
What is the difference between rice cookers and pressure cookers?
Pressure cookers, as the name implies, are designed to maintain pressure in the inner pot by having a sealed lid which prevents steam from escaping. This makes the appliance ideal for tenderizing meat that would be tough to do with a rice cooker, for instance. It can also cook whole vegetables and roasts. It is a more efficient way of cooking food, requires lesser liquids, and allows temperature to go above boiling point of water. With multi-functional pressure cookers available on the market, this means that they are capable of cooking rice as well, which basically removes the need of having a separate rice cooker.
What are the other uses of rice cookers?
Rice cookers can be used for cooking food beyond rice, such as the following:
This can be done if the rice cooker comes with a steamer rack, in which ingredients or raw food that are steam-friendly, such as vegetables, fish fillets, chicken breasts, shrimps, can be put in.
The inner pot can also be used to put cut fruit in, mixed with liquids such as water, wine or juice. The heat conducted can also be ideal for making applesauce or other fruit sauces.
Slow-cook stews or soups
Rice cookers featuring a slow-cooking function are capable of cooking stews or soups, which can be done simply by putting in the necessary ingredients and liquids, such as broth or water, into the inner pot or special bowl provided by the model.
Prepare oatmeal or porridge
Another cooking feature is for oatmeal or rice porridge which can be kept warm with the ‘warm mode’ commonly available in rice cookers.
What are the best types on the market?
According to the reviews made by Digital Trends, the following are highly favored rice cookers, separated into different categories, on the market in 2020.
For portability: miAroma MRC-903 Mini Cooker
This model is compact but surprisingly versatile, and suitable for small meals for one to two people. Not only can it cook up to three cups of rice but can also be used to cook pasta, quinoa, and even omelettes. The cooking is simply initiated by a press of a button and can keep food warm for up to 12 hours. Once food is finished, the inner pot can be easily cleaned as it is non-stick and dishwasher-safe, making it ready for reuse in no time. The price tag for this very basic rice cooker is approximately $25.
For simplicity: Various options ranging from low to mid-range prices
Aroma Housewares 6-Cup Pot Style Rice Cooker and Food Steamer
At a price for around $29, this rice cooker features a decent capacity of up to six cups of rice and is extremely easy to operate by simply adding water into its inner pot and flipping a switch to have it start cooking. It will automatically shut off the cooking process once the rice is done. It might not have a digital countdown timer or settings for different types of rice, but it still gets the job done.
Aroma Housewares ARC-914SBD Rice Grain Cooker and Food Steamer
This model might sport a better deal than the one mentioned above as it includes a steamer tray and can cook up to eight cups of rice, all for a price at around $30. It is also extremely easy to operate, does not occupy much space, incorporates a delay-start timer which can be set for up to 15 hours in advance, has a digital timer, and includes presets for brown rice and white rice.
Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity
This rice cooker is quite similar to the one mentioned above, as it also includes a steaming basket and a delay-start timer. Its timer can be set for up to 15 hours in advance as well. However, it boasts a 4 to 20 cup (cooked) capacity; greater cooking versatility as it supports all kinds of white rice, quick rice, and whole grains; and more functions such as ‘Heat/Simmer’, which is used for pasta, beans, soups, and one-pot meals, ‘Steam Cook’, and ‘Hot Cereals’, which is suited for oatmeal and cream of wheat. All these great features come at a price tag of approximately $50.
For versatility: Gourmia GRC970 11-in-1 Digital 20-Cup Rice Cooker
This model, named the Gourmia TenderRender 3000, is a highly beneficial appliance as it is capable of cooking meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even dessert that comes at around $45. This rice cooker also has a 15-hour delay timer and comes with a handful of accessories, such as a measuring cup, spatula, clear glass removable lid, and steam tray. It is ETL-certified which ensures that users are operating a safe appliance. The cooker is great for preparing large batches as it has a capacity of up to 20 cups of rice and highly convenient due to its One Pot Meal feature, which aims to improve a user’s cooking experience by providing them various options from steaming to slow-cooking all packed in just one machine.
For high quality: Zojirushi NP-NVC10 Induction Heating Pressure Rice Cooker
This cooker packs a hefty price at a range between $350 to $500 due to incorporating advanced fuzzy logic technology with artificial intelligence. What this does is that over time of frequent use, the machine ‘learns’ and adjusts its cooking cycle in means of achieving perfect results each time its users cooks rice. The inner pot is made of platinum-infused nonstick material, which is claimed to change the water quality and improves absorption into the rice for better taste. It adopts superior induction heating technology and a induction heating pressure system, which means that the cooking temperature within the inner cooking pot is more uniform and precise and cooks rice with pressure by not permitting air or liquid to escape, keeping the rice soft for longer periods of time compared to regular cooked rice. It comes with accessories such as a rice spatula, a spatula holder, and two measuring cups- one for regular rice and the other for rinse-free rice. Furthermore, it is capable of cooking any type of rice imaginable, including brown rice, sushi rice, rice that has been mixed with seasonings, rice porridge, and even GABA brown rice, which is a newly discovered way of cooking brown rice to ‘activate’ an amino acid called gamma-aminobutyric acid, that is found in brown rice, which is believed to help lower blood pressure, improve kidney function, and relieve stress.
Is using a rice cooker better than cooking manually?
The opinion as to whether it is better than manual cooking may vary from person to person. Modern stoves now come with a timer, better heat control and settings which allow one to manually cook rice, using a heavy-cast iron or earthenware pots.
There are certainly several conveniences from using a rice cooker:
- It prevents rice from becoming burned, over-cooked or under-cooked.
- It helps keep rice warm for hours.
- It does not require much preparation for cooking rice.
- Several models can even be used to cook other food asides rice.
- Saves time for the user, particularly when one has many things to do.
- A larger amount of rice can be prepared, which is ideal for families or events.
On the other hand, several inconveniences include:
- Cannot function without an electricity source.
- Adequate space needs to be available to place the rice cooker.
- Proper maintenance is needed; if one part malfunctions or goes missing which disrupts the entire cooking process, the entire appliance becomes redundant and needs repair or replacement.
- Can be costly, particularly high end ones that are designed to make rice taste better or cook them to be softer.
Is owning one really necessary?
Simply put, this would depend on how much rice one consumes on a routinely basis and the time and effort one is willing to put into cooking rice. The option of whether or not to own one is up to the consumer, their preferences, and budget.
With many kinds of rice cookers available on the market, one could easily find a model fit for their needs and budget. They have certain conveniences over cooking rice manually, such as being able to prevent the chances of burning and maintaining warmth long after the cooking of the rice is done. Owning a rice cooker would also be highly beneficial if one consumes rice on a regular or frequent basis. Lastly, newer models sport features for other food, such as a steamer for vegetables or act as a slow cooker for stews, and have become more efficient and smart.
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