The Rice Maker – or Rice Cooker
A rice maker, more commonly referred to as a rice cooker or rice steamer, is a container or kitchen appliance dedicated to cooking rice.
Rice makers may be divided into a variety of rice cookers, rice steamers, ceramic or plastic containers for microwave oven, and gas and electrical appliances. Most home rice makers are electric. In commercial or industrial use, there are many varieties, such as large gas or electric rice makers, a large-scale rice maker that is called “rice boiler”, and fully automatic versions which handle the whole rice cooking process from washing rice to the end of the cooking cycle.
Cooking rice has traditionally been a process which required attention to ensure the rice was cooked properly. An electric rice maker automates this process by electronically controlling the heat and timing. Although the rice maker does not necessarily speed up the cooking process, with an electric rice maker the cook’s involvement in cooking rice is reduced to simply measuring the rice, preparing the rice properly and using the correct amount of water. Once the rice maker is set to cook, the rice will be cooked with no further attention. Many modern rice cookers have heat insulating casing and a warming mechanism. When the rice is fully cooked, the unit will automatically switch to the “keep warm” cycle, preventing the rice from being overcooked and keeping the rice warm until it’s ready to be served. There are many rice cooker recipes that allow you to cook much more than simply rice in a rice maker.
It takes about 30 minutes to 1 hour for most electric rice makers to cook rice. Some advanced rice cookers can back-calculate the cooking start time from given finish time. The time required for cooking rice depends on amount of rice, power of the heating elements, and atmospheric pressure, thus it is not constant. Pressure-cooker rice makers are not influenced by atmospheric pressure.
In the early days of electric home rice makers in Japan, the rice cookers were manufactured, marketed and purchased only within Japan. With the trend of Japanese cuisine spreading abroad, they were exported to Western countries. They were also exported to rice-consuming Asian countries as the average family income has improved and reduced manual labor is desired. Many rice cookers are now manufactured in China, Korea, and Malaysia. Even some Japanese rice cookers intended only for Japanese domestic market are now manufactured outside Japan. Zojirushi is one of the most popular Japanese rice cooker brands.
For modern home rice makers, the smallest single person rice cooker cooks 1 rice cup (180 ml) whereas the largest rice maker cooks 10 rice cups (1.8 liter). Rice cooker prices vary greatly, depending on the capacity, features, materials used, the countries of origin. The typical lower price models use electricity to heat the inner cooking bowl controlled by built-in microprocessors, whereas the high-end models feature various ideas of improved and better cooking methods. These inventions include microprocessor-controlled cooking cycles, pressure cooking, induction heating that generates heat directly within the inner cooking bowl itself, employing varying pressure control mechanism named “dual-pressure” method that creates repeated pressure/release cycles during the cooking, using various materials (e.g. copper, pure carbon, ceramic, diamond powder coating) for the inner cooking bowl because of their higher heat conductivity, utilizing more than one induction heating element, or employing a mechanism to collect and return the boiled over liquid to the inner rice bowl.
Pressure-cooking rice makers can raise the water’s boiling point higher, from 100 °C at 1.0 atm up to about 110 °C at 1.4 atm, and are generally believed to produce a better result. They are also suitable for cooking brown rice, which is richer in dietary fiber and higher in nutrition. The pressure cooking models can also be used in high altitude areas.
Rice Maker Features
Stay-warm (keep-warm) feature: The majority of modern rice makers are equipped with this function.
Many models feature an ability to cook sticky rice or porridge as an added feature. Most can be used as steamers. Some can be used as slow cooking pots. Some rice cookers can bake bread or in some cases have an added function to maintain temperatures suitable for fermentation of bread dough or yogurt. These days it’s common to see many added functions other than cooking rice.
Restaurants that serve a lot of rice, particularly those specializing in Asian cuisine, often use industrial size rice makers (often they are gas pressure rice cookers, but there are electric models as well) that quickly and cheaply produce large quantities of cooked rice. A rice maker is a standard appliance in kitchens in many Asian countries and households; a recent survey showed that over 95% of Japanese kitchens have a rice cooker.
The bowl in the rice maker is usually removable and has a heater and thermostat underneath. A spring pushes the thermostat against the bottom of the bowl for good thermal contact. During cooking the rice/water mixture is heated at full power. The water reaches a temperature of 100 °C (212 °F); it cannot get hotter than its boiling point. By the end of cooking there will be no free water left; most will have been absorbed by the rice, and some boiled off. As heating continues, the temperature can now rise above boiling point which makes the thermostat trip. Some rice cookers switch to low-power “warming” mode, keeping the rice at a safe temperature of approximately 65 °C (150 °F); simpler models switch off.
To learn more about how to use a rice maker or rice cooker, check out our simple one page guide: How to cook rice in a rice cooker