Which Rice Cooker to Buy?

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Soft, fluffy rice is a prerequisite for great sushi – and a plethora of other popular Asian dishes besides. But, if you’re under the impression cooking it is as simple as throwing it into a pot of boiling water, and waiting for it to ‘do its thing,’ you’re very much mistaken. Manually cooking rice is considered an art-form in some Asian and Middle Eastern countries owing to the traditional techniques employed. Achieving the perfect texture, consistency, flavor, and temperature takes many years, and a great deal of skill to master. Fortunately, there are easier alternatives that don’t necessitate watching an earthenware pot on an open flame – Zojirushi rice cookers.

Though they endure a mixed reception among world class sushi chefs, Zojirushi rice cookers are, without doubt, a boon for home chefs, and busy commercial kitchens. The first domestic brand to introduce the ‘keep-warm’ feature in 1974, Zojirushi have established a solid reputation for their innovative and convenient rice cookers – many of which utilize patented, state-of-the-art technology. Presently, Zojirushi offer rice cookers in four technology-specific categories: Conventional, Micom, IH (Induction Heating) and Micom, and the fourth which incorporates Pressure, Induction Heating and Micom.

Struggling to find the most relevant one for you? Our quick overviews below may help to simplify your shopping experience.

 

conventional rice cooker

Conventional Rice Cooker

Conventional:

First introduced in 1955, conventional electric rice cookers were, and continue to be, a basic kitchen aid for cooking rice. Their design and technology little differs from the early models of the 1950s, which were intended to do little more than heat water to a preset temperature, and cook the rice within a timescale programmed into the unit. Conventional rice cookers are equipped with a heating element in the base, allowing for even heat distribution, and also feature an automatic shut-off function, activated once the unit has completed its timed heating.

Lack of programming capability, coupled with their basic functions, often sees conventional rice cookers overlooked in favor of more advanced models. However, conventional models will generally yield similarly excellent results, and conveniently double up as vegetable steamers too!  If you’re seeking an inexpensive rice cooker for occasional or home use, conventional models are worthy of consideration.

 

micom rice cooker

Micom Rice Cooker

Micom:

You’ll instantly recognize a Micom (micro-computerized) rice cooker when you see one due to the familiar digital interface. Popularized during the 1980s, Micom rice cookers are still a common choice for domestic users owing to the simplicity of their operation. Micom rice cookers are constructed with an onboard computer memory chip programmed with an abundance of preset information. Inexpensive models are often limited to weight presets, however, for a little extra, you can enjoy the convenience of additional options for brown rice, sushi rice, and even porridge!

Equipped with thermal sensors, Micom rice cookers offer far more in terms of convenience than conventional rice cookers. Consistently monitoring the temperature within the unit, the thermal sensors are able to interpret any necessary alterations in cooking time, and adjust the temperature accordingly. Essentially, this means you can leave the unit to cook the rice, without having to check it constantly. Micom rice cookers are also automatically programmed to incorporate soaking and steaming time, thus eliminating the need to re-program for different phases of heating and cooking.

Micom rice cookers are often favored for their convenience; most featuring a “keep warm” function that will maintain the rice at a pre-set temperature for several hours. Menu settings are broad, including white, brown, sweet, and rinse-free options, coupled with steam, porridge, and ‘quick cook’ options. Professional chefs favor Micom models due to their being particularly adept at cooking brown rice – notoriously difficult to get right!

 

IH rice cooker

IH Rice Cooker

IH (Induction Heating) + Micom:

Incorporating state-of-the-art heating technology, coupled with the intelligence of Micom, induction heating rice cookers are widely regarded the most efficient when it comes to cooking all varieties of rice. As the name suggests, IH rice cookers utilize induction technology to heat the entire pan, allowing for far more accurate heat distribution. The element, commonly housed within the base, relies upon the magnetic properties of the pan to generate an electromagnetic field, which in turn produces moving electrons within the pan. It is the movement of these electrons which causes heat to be generated within the pot – the construction of which also minimizes heat loss.

Induction heating rice cookers with Micom tend to command a higher price in comparison to Micom units, largely due to the ‘newness’ of this form of technology. This manner of heating enables an almost instantaneous, and precise response to temperature alteration, without the need for any manual input. Since induction heating utilizes the inner pot as an element, overall cooking time is also considerably reduced.

Most foodies are inclined to agree that rice cooked in an IH and Micom cooker is by far fluffier and tastier than that cooked on the hob, or in a conventional machine. This again is attributed to the effective conductivity of the cooking pot, which cooks the rice far more evenly than other machines. Micro-computerized intelligence adds to the versatility of these advanced rice cookers, making them convenient, flexible, and capable of replacing numerous other small kitchen appliances.

 

zojirushi rice cooker

IH Pressure Rice Cooker

Pressure + IH + Micom:

You don’t have to spend extortionate amounts of money to procure an efficient rice cooker. In fact, many chefs will recommend mid-range IH + Micom units over high end models due to the fact there is minimal discernible difference in rice quality, or taste. That being said, if you’re looking for a rice cooker that guarantees a taste advantage (particularly for sushi rice), you may want to consider a model from Zojirushi’s NVC10 range that offers both of the above, coupled with a pressurized system.

Pressurized systems within rice cookers are a relatively new development, however, have been proven to significantly alter rice taste, texture and density – thus making it easier to digest. Pressurization within the rice pot allows for higher cooking temperatures (above the usual 212°F) in comparison to IH + Micom models; conditions which alter the chemical composition of starch within the rice kernel, and allow heat to penetrate deeper. Induction heating, and intelligent Micom technology work in conjunction with the pressure system, allowing for greater temperature precision, and significantly faster cooking time. Gastronomes tend to agree that rice cooked in this manner is softer, fluffier, and sweeter than that cooked in conventional and Micom machines.

Rice cookers equipped with pressure systems all feature IH + Micom, the latter of which allows for a myriad of handy presets, including Steam Reduce, and Umami (extended soak and steam time). Zojirushi’s top-of-the-range units incorporate platinum-infused cooking pots, which significantly improve water quality and purity during the cooking process. It is believed this ‘purification’ plays a key role in the alteration of rice texture and flavor. Another feature not found among IH+Micom units are vertical induction panels. Built into the sides of the machine (as well as the bottom), they allow for more uniform heating throughout, eliminating the issue of overcooked/ crispy rice sticking to the base of the pan.

 

Choosing a rice cooker largely depends upon your intended end use. Conventional and Micom rice cookers are more than adequate for boiling white rice, and general home use. However, if you intend on cooking brown rice (known for being notoriously tricky), or sushi rice, the speed, convenience, and superior results afforded by IH+Micom and Pressure+IH+Micom machines is vastly superior. It is worth noting that pressurized rice cookers do not utilize pressure when cooking sushi rice due to its density, therefore if you’re searching for a machine for this purpose, you don’t necessarily need to opt for one in the Pressure range.