How can a rice cooker, a fairly new invention, beat the centuries old cooking method so well?
Rice has been a staple in asian and south asian cuisine for nearly 8000 years! And why won’t it be? There is nothing more wholesome and filling than a perfectly made, flavourful bowl of rice. The problem, however, is to cook it at home.
This is where rice cookers come into frame. This amazing piece of technology has transformed the way we enjoy our rice. As amazing as it is, we all have at least once wondered about how a rice cooker works.
It’s an interesting and frankly legit question. How does the cooker always know when the rice is done? In this article I try to seek the answer to this question in brief. So if you are curious to know more, let’s dive straight to the main topic.
How a Rice Cooker Works: The Structure of The Cooker
Before we get into how rice cookers work, we need to focus on how they are made. Every rice cooker is made slightly different from the other. However, there are four key elements that can be found in any basic rice cookers:
- Main Body
- Inner Cooking Pan
- Electric Heating Plate
- Thermal-Sensing Device
A basic rice cooker comes with a main body and an inner pot. This inner pot is mostly made from stainless steel or cast iron with a non-stick coating on top. The non-stick coating is helpful to prevent burnt or crispy rice.
To cook rice you need to have lots of water and high heat. The Electric heating plate provides even heat and the lid keeps the water from evaporating too fast. It also comes with a thermal-sensing device that automates the whole cooking process
The Four Phases of Rice Cooking
Almost everyone who grew up in an Asian or Indian family knows how to cook rice properly. The process through which hard, raw rice becomes deliciously fluffy involves four simple steps. This process has been used for centuries to make delicious rice for many different recipes.
If you are using brown rice or any other types that take a bit longer to cook, it’s ideal to let them soak in water for 10-15 minutes before cooking.
Whether you are using a traditional pot or a rice cooker, everyone uses a 2:1 ration for water and rice. The rule is to let the water boil at least once and then reduce the heat to medium flame. After lowering the flare let it simmer.
After around 15-20 minutes, almost all the water will be absorbed and you will end up with slightly wet rice. This step includes letting it steam for a few minutes until all the water evaporates.
Unless you are in a hurry, rice should be left to rest for a few minutes. This cools the temperature down and allows the steam to get absorbed by the rice. Use a fork to fluff it around.
Anyone who is used to making rice every other day knows these steps. The problem is, cooking rice is not as easy as it sounds. A lot of factors can go wrong in the process.
What if you add too much water? What if you forget to reduce the heat? What if you leave it on the stove for longer than you imagined?
The issue with rice is, you can end up with really mushy rice or undercooked mess in a matter of minutes. Rice needs full attention and care, something none of us has in the busy world we live in.
This is why rice cookers are so popular. They follow all these steps by themselves and you end up with perfectly cooked rice every time. So, how does it do it?
How Do Rice Cookers Know When the Rice is Cooked?
It’s impressive, isn’t it? The rice cooker always makes perfect rice no matter what. It somehow always follows all those four steps at the right moment which results in beautiful, fluffy deliciousness.
The trick is temperature control. What rice cooker essentially does is, it follows the temperature inside the pot with precise attention. When the water starts to boil, the temperature rises above 100°C. If you use the 2:1 ratio then this is the time when your rice is almost done.
After reaching 100°C, the cooker reduces the heat to bring down the temperature. Traditionally, the rice cooker uses a magnet to hold the switch of the heating element circuit.
We all know what happens when a magnet gets heat up; it loses its magnetism. So when the water is gone inside the pot, the magnet loses its power and lets go of the switch. This turns on the resting/warming mode.
Modern rice cooker can not heat up more than 212°F or 100°C. This means as long as there is water in the pot, it will keep absorbing heat from the heating mechanism. Water can not rise above this temperature.
Otherwise it will turn into steam. So when all the water inside the pot gets absorbed by the rice, the temperature immediately rises. This alerts the thermostat and the cooker shuts itself off immediately.
Who knew cooking rice could be this scientific! You might be wondering why is it so complex? Why not just use a normal pot instead? Well you can but then you might miss all the great features of owning a rice cooker.
Why Buy a Rice Cooker Anyway?
If a normal pot can do the same then why waste so much money on a designated cooker only for rice? Well here’s where you might be getting it all wrong.
A rice cooker is probably one of the most versatile kitchen appliances you can purchase. If you cook rice three/four times a week, then I don’t know how you have been living without one.
If you are skeptical about the necessity of a rice cooker in your life, here are some of the main advantages of owning one:
- You get perfect rice every single time. You do not get a watery, mushy, sticky mess. It doesn’t even stick to the bottom of the pan. So you always end up with perfectly fluffy rice.
- You can turn it on and just forget about it. The cooker will cook your rice and set it in warm mode until you are ready to eat.
- You can set a timer for the morning. So that when you wake up, warm, comforting rice is ready for you. This is really convenient if you work a longer shift.
You can set a timer for the evening and leave for your work. When you come home, you’ll be welcomed with a delicious pot of just made rice.
- You can make porridge or congee for breakfast with a rice cooker.
While looking for a new cooker, it is really important to understand what kind of rice cooker is ideal for your needs. There are many different types and each has a slightly different function.
Types of Rice Cookers:
Now that you have a clear idea about how a rice cooker works, you might be curious to explore different types of cooker out there. Not all rice cookers are made the same way. They all have different heating systems and purposes.
This also means each cooker works differently based on how they are built. Here are some of the most popular types of rice cookers available in the market:
Electric Rice Cooker:
Electric rice cookers are the most common type of rice cooker. They are easy to find and available at an affordable price. Electric rice cookers come in many different sizes and types.
Standard electric rice cookers have existed since 1955. This is the time when rice cookers started to become a household necessity in many Asian countries.
There is a thermal detector in electric cookers that detects the water level inside the pot. If the water evaporates, it automatically shuts itself off. This design is so foolproof that little has been changed since the fifties.
On/Off Rice Cooker:
On/off rice cookers are a type of electric rice cooker that genuinely makes life a little bit easier. You simply put water and rice in the pot and press the “on” button. When the rice is done, the switch flips to “off”. This is when you know it’s time to serve your food.
On/off rice cookers are designed to be affordable for everyone. They do not have fancy buttons or options. On/off rice cookers are a basic model that normally doesn’t come with non-stick pot or steamer.
Fuzzy Logic Rice Cooker:
Fuzzy logic rice cooker is a very sophisticated kitchen equipment. It is the result of many years of research and experimentations. These types of rice cookers are quite versatile and flexible.
You can make soups, porridge, brown rice congee and even sushi rice with it. It comes in various models and settings each designed to have more functionalities than the other.
Fuzzy logic rice cookers have built in computer chips that allows the cooker to make judgement calls. This is revolutionary because the machine decides when the rice is done and when it’s not. So it kind of works in a similar way how a person might cook rice. It’s not just a rice cooker, it’s smarter!
Induction heating rice cookers are one of the most expensive types. If you are someone who always messes up measurements, this is an ideal one for you. It can compensate for your error and fix them by adjusting the temperature. The end result always is, evenly cooked, tasty rice.
Induction heating uses magnets, resistance and a controlled heating system to create a precise outcome.
Unlike other rice cookers, induction cookers do not have heating coils only on the bottom of the pan. The entire pan including the sides and the base is the heater. You can understand why you’d get even heat distribution with this machine.
The temperature is controlled by the magnetic field inside the cooker. This means it is capable of fixing human errors without any hassle.
What Else Can I Cook on a Rice Cooker?
If you have been using your rice cooker to only cook rice, then you are missing out on so many versatile opportunities. This simple kitchen equipment can be used for many different things. With a little experimentation and flavour, you can make easy, laid back scrumptious recipes in no time.
Congee is a traditional Chinese rice porridge. It can be made plain or with other elements added to it.
You can add chicken broth, seasonings and pieces of meat to make a filling and wholesome breakfast. It’s such a personalised and experimental dish as you can add basically anything to it.
Steam Vegetables or Quinoa:
Every rice cooker comes with a steamer rack. You can easily steam large portions of vegetables in it. You multitask with it while cooking rice and then add them to the rice for a twist.
Soups and Stews:
Rice cooker is great for slow cooking as the temperature doesn’t rise above 100°C. So you can slow cook larger portions of soups or broths to bring out the best flavours. The best part is, it does not need constant attention.
You can also make poached fruits, risotto, slow cooked ribs and many more items. The key is to be creative and curious .
If you like to cook rice more than 2/3 times a week, it is probably a good idea to invest in a quality rice cooker.
Rice cooker is all about convenience. It’s designed to merge perfectly with our busy and clustered lifestyle. You can cook a significantly larger amount of rice without having to pay any attention to it.
The science behind how a rice cooker works is fairly simple. This shows how simple innovations can transform the way we enjoy our life. With a rice cooker you can enjoy your family dinners without rushing around the kitchen for an enjoyable meal.