Rice can be cooked in many different ways, but the most common way, by far, is through boiling it with an electric rice cooker. This is an essential kitchen appliance in almost all Asian households.
Around the world, there are many types of electric rice cookers with different technologies and features. Fortunately, we live in the age of the internet where most things are available online so we have access to many of these. All of the extra features that the more advanced models provide are not necessary to get excellent results, but they can help make the cooking process easier and quicker.
The traditional electric rice cooker relies on a simple design that is widely found. Due to its simplicity and low price, these are the most popular. This design only consists of a base heating plate, a single warm/cook switch, a non-stick bowl, and either a glass lid or a plastic lid that’s attached via a hinge. There is no on/off switch. When you plug it in, it automatically powers on. With a single switch, there are only two modes. A warm mode, which uses low heat to keep rice warm, and a cook mode, which uses high heat to boil water and cook rice.
The way the cook mode works is almost universal. There’s a temperature sensor within the base heating plate which detects how hot the bowl is. During cook mode, the water inside the bowl will heat up until it reaches a steady boil. We know that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius). So as long as there is liquid water in the bowl and the water is boiling, the temperature will stay at 212 F (100 C). However, when the liquid water has mostly boiled off or entirely absorbed by the rice, the temperature of the bowl will start to rise. It is at this point the rice cooker will automatically switch from the high heat cook mode into the low heat warm mode and the cooking process is complete.
The second most popular design is what many call the Japanese design as it is most prevalent with models produced in Japan. Typically oval in shape, this design is a step up from the traditional rice cooker and usually consists of a plastic lid connected via a hinge and a control panel with a display and multiple buttons towards the front top surface of the device. With a control panel, many of these tend to incorporate additional features such as fuzzy logic, specialized cook modes, timers, induction heating, etc.
Fuzzy logic improves upon the basic heating logic above by offering different cook modes that can better suit different varieties of rice. In essence, the rate of heating and timing of the heat is modified. The name “fuzzy logic” is used here because the control logic is not as straightforward while including many more intermediate degrees of values and measurements.
Induction heating in rice cookers work similarly with how induction stove tops work. A magnetic field is produced by the cooker and when this field interacts with the magnetic material of the bowl, an electric current is produced within the material of the bowl and the entire bowl, including the walls of the bowl, can heat up as opposed to just the bottom plate of the bowl with traditional rice cookers. This can result in more evenly cooked rice when you have heat directly applied from all directions and more precise fine tune control of the heat applied by the rice cooker via the ability to more quickly change the heat.
Another step up would be a pressure rice cooker. When you’re cooking by boiling, you’re limited by the standard boiling point of water of 212 F (100 C). With a pressure cooker, you can increase the pressure within the bowl and this raises the boiling point of water to a higher temperature. With a higher temperature, food cooks faster. However, the drawback is that these are usually only found in premium models with high price tags.
When shopping for a pressure rice cooker, an easy way to double check that a model is indeed a pressure cooker is to inspect the bowl itself. The edge of the top rim of the bowl should have alternating flanges that protrude outwards. These enable the lid to lock with the bowl so that the lid can be firmly clamped down to enable higher pressures within the bowl during cooking.
Rice cookers don’t have to be huge and bulky. They also come in portable designs that make it easy to cook while on the go. These can be used during picnics and often come in a rectangular format for easier packing. In fact, they’re sometimes called electric lunchboxes because of how they resemble a lunchbox that you can plug in and cook with. Some still require plugging into a multi-pronged electrical outlet, but some can also plug into a car’s auxiliary power outlet for the ultimate mobility.
Lastly, you may also find rice cookers marketed as ones designed for microwave use. Practically speaking though, these are basically just glorified bowls. If you’re using a microwave, you can cook rice with just about any container. That said, we highly recommend a ceramic container. With the long microwave times that are required to cook rice, plastic containers will tend to warp over time while ceramic ones will not. Due to a microwave rice cooker being just essentially a bowl with no tech in it, companies typically resort to other ways to differentiate their products with the most popular way of creating unique designs.
One of our favorite unique designs is the cup form! It’s super stylish and works as a great gift for any true foodie. Made in sturdy ceramic and includes a matching lid with vent hole.