Every Japanese household has a rice cooker. Considering they eat rice once or more almost everyday, a machine that cooks rice perfectly and automatically is truly a convenience. These machines might seem a bit pricy at first, but they can also easily last you anywhere from 3 to 10 years. You can find rice cookers cooking 1 to 10 cups of raw rice, making up to 20 bowls of rice each time.
To use a rice cooker, you simply open the lid, put the rinsed rice into the inner-pot, add water according to the scale on the pot, close the lid, and press a button. In 15-40 minutes, depending on your type of rice cooker and what you selected, the hot steaming rice will be ready to eat.
Today, let’s take a look at the evolution of Japanese rice cookers and what they can do for you.
Although extremely rarely seen in Japan nowadays, many Western families still use the out-dated traditional type rice cooker that has only one button and uses a glass lid. This rice cooker doesn’t seal the steam in the pot so the rice doesn’t come out as fluffy, and washing is troublesome for the pots without a coating.
Traditional Steam Lock Type
The next evolution has a locking-lid so the rice will come out more even and fluffy, while the keep-warm function also helps families who need it. Same as the traditional type, it only takes about 20 mins to cook the rice. However, this rice cooker is also designed to only cook white rice and is replaced by the modern styles that can cook various things.
Rice cookers took a big step up when the micro-computer rice cookers were introduced. These cookers have an internal clock and computer chip that offer various options for the rice cooker.
First, you can cook rice at “normal” speed, which is now 40 minutes, or “fast” which is the speed of the traditional types at around 20 minutes. The difference is that during the normal cycle, the rice is cooked at a low heat initially, allowing the rice to absorb more water. Then the heat switches to high to cook the rice completely, making the rice fluffier (perhaps you’ve realized that this is a key word for rice cookers). In contrast, the old type only cooked at one heat setting.
Thanks to the time and heat controls, you can also cook different kinds of rice, such as brown rice and porridge. Sure, some people also used the traditional types for different rice by tweaking the water amount and soaking the harder rice beforehand. But that was never recommended whereas these newer types can officially cook all those things. Rice cookers starting at this level also use a harder material for the coating of the pot, making it more durable against the harder types of rice.
The timer also lets you delay the cooking and pre-set exactly what time for the rice to be cooked by, so you can insert everything and come home to a pot of freshly cooked rice.
IH (Induction Heating) Type
The introduction of the Induction Heating technology into rice cookers has made the rice, you guessed it, even fluffier! (Whatttt!?) With an induction cooker replacing the traditional heating elements, the heat spreads evenly throughout the whole inner pot as the rice cooks, allowing the rice to be cooked more evenly and thoroughly. This was also when the machines changing from the common white colour to stainless steel shells started becoming a trend to match the modern kitchen colours.
IH Pressure Type
Lastly, the IH technology combined with the mechanic of a pressure cooker locks all the steam in the pot, creating more movement within the pot as it cooks, and helps to penetrate the harder shells of certain kinds of rice such as brown rice. Needless to say, the rice would come out EVEN fluffier, and this is currently the highest level of rice cookers on the market.
Photo: Alyson Hurt on Flickr
If you are still cooking your rice in a pot over a stove, I would HIGHLY recommend getting yourself one of these, and going for at least the mirco-com level. This will make your life so much easier, and perhaps, even fluffier.