How to Choose the correct Rice Cooker for you

By Alfred Lau
Forum Home Appliances Inc
     When you are looking at this article, you must be wondering, how do you choose a rice cooker that would last a lifetime? First of all, choosing a rice cooker that is suitable for you requires no magic, but you have to know your cooking practices.
     First, you have to know how many cups (refering to the standardized cup that comes with rice cookers) of rice you will cook on a DAILY basis, NOT on occasions when you have guests over. This is important because rice cookers come in various sizes. A 3-cup rice cooker is the smallest capacity that is common for major brands such as Panasonic, Tiger, and Zojirushi. The next common size up is a 5-cup and the biggest size (for household use) is 10 cups. For some brands, there are 4-cups and 8-cups available. Each cup of raw rice will yield two bowls of cooked rice.  For example, a 5-cup rice cooker can make up to a maximum of 10 bowls of cooked rice, and a 10-cup rice cooker can make up to 20-bowls of cooked rice.
     So here's my first tip. If you only cook on a daily basis, about 1-2 cups of rice, usually a 3-cup rice cooker would be the most suitable size for you. If you cook around 2-5 cups of rice, a 5-cup cooker would be most suitable. And finally, if you cook any more than 5 cups, then a 10-cup cooker would be most suitable. A common concern that we often hear in the store is what if we have guests over? If you have guests over and you need to cook MORE than the cooker's capacity, the most ideal way is to cook twice. So why shouldn't you buy a larger rice cooker (ie. 10-cup) so that when you have guests over, you don't have to cook twice? You could buy a larger rice cooke but since on a daily basis you do not cook that much, it would damage the inner pot of the cooker and shorten its life span. Also, if you only cook a small amount of rice in a large rice cooker, the heat is not evenly distributed and the rice will not come out as well.
     A second cooking practice that you have to be aware of is what kind of rice you usually cook? And what kind of features do you need? There are three kinds of rice cookers: traditionaljar-o-mat, and micro-computerized.Traditional and jar-o-mat type rice cookers are simply a one touch button cookers that cook only plain (white) rice. These rice cookers are very user friendly and cook very quickly (aproximately 25 minutes). After the rice is cooked, the rice cooker will automatically adjust to "keep warm". There are a few key differences between a traditional rice cooker and a jar-o-mat rice cooker. Traditional rice cookers have a single heating element, so it heats the rice from the bottom up. This will produce a crust on the cooked rice. Some people like this crust but most don't.  A jar-o-matrice cooker has the heating element on the bottom, but also heating elements along the side of the rice cooker body, and in with some models on the lid also. This cooks the rice evenly, so there is no crust. Jar-o-mat rice cookers have a hinged lid that is attached to the body and has a rubber gasket. So when the lid is closed it seals in the heat when cooking and keeps warm better. Traditional rice cookers have a glass lid that sits on top of the inner pot, so you lose heat when cooking and keeping warm.
BONUS TIP: Do not try to keep your rice warm in a rice cooker overnight, this will dry out your rice. They are only designed to keep warm for 4-5 hours. If you cook too much and want to have it the next day, put the extra rice in a container and put it in your refridgerator. You can resteam the rice in your rice cooker the next day.
     On the other hand, a micro-computerized rice cooker the newest design, often incorporated with a high-tech mechanism known as 'fuzzy logic'. Fuzzy logic rice cookers will warm your rice before cooking it, cook it at varying temperatures during the heating cycle, and then warm the rice before it before it is ready. The fuzzy logic cooking function will take more time to cook your rice (aproximately 50 minutes) but it cooks fuffier, better tasting rice, so it's worth the wait. If you are in a rush your can over-ride the fuzzy logic function with a 'quick cook' function, which will make your multi-function rice cooker cook like a jar-o-mat rice cooker.
     As the name suggests, this type of rice cooker is operated by a computer. In addtional to the fuzzy logic function,micro-computerized rice cookers offer many other features. For example some models able to cook brown rice, which cooks at a different temperature, amount of water, and amount of time.  Other popular features are the porridge cooking fuction, slow cook function, and steaming function.
BONUS TIP: Porridge is different from 'congee'. If have been to a wonton style Chinese restaurant you may have tried congee. This is a thick rice-porridge, cooked at low heat for at least 3-hours.  Do not try to make congee in a traditional or jar-o-mat rice cooker, as you they do not have this function and will over heat the congee and spill over, which may damage your rice cooker.  Tiger and Zojirushi micro-computerized rice cookers do not make congee as they are programmed for Japanese congee, which only cooks for one hour.  If you want thick congee, you should choose one of the Panasonic micro-computerized models which have the slow cook function which will allow you to cook for up to 4 hours.
     Also, all computerized rice cookers come with a timer that allows you to preset a cooking time for when you want your rice to be cooked and ready. Some models will have a count down timer, so you would calculate in how many hours you want to eat your rice. Other models have a built in clock, and you set what time you want to eat your rice. For example, you first have the rice and water ready inside your rice cooker, plug it in, and set it to 7:00pm. The rice cooker will turn on to autmati mode and the rice will be cooked and ready to serve at 7:00pm. If you work during the day and do not want to wait for the rice cooker when you get home, this feature can save you a lot of time.
     Some brands and models of computerized rice cookers also have features for cooking sweet rice, rinse free rice, sushi rice, and even bake cakes. So here is my second tip. If you never cook brown rice, sweet rice, etc., and never make porridge, and don't need a timer, you would probably be happy with a jar-o-mat rice cooker. If you don't cook rice very often and are not that picky about the quality of your cooked rice, you may be okay with a traditionalrice cooker. However, if you do make brown rice, or rice porridge and would find a timer useful, then you undoubtably would appreciate a computerized rice cooker. 
     So are you starting to have an idea on what kind of rice cooker you want? Let me give you my third tip. When you choose a rice cooker, consider choosing a brand name that is reliable and well known to you. We carry many brands which are made from many different places: Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, and China. I would say that the Japanese brands (PanasonicTigerZojirushi) are the ones with better designs, better quality, and better durability. Even though many models from these brands are no longer made in Japan, they have been able to maintain their reputation for quality and efficiency. Just take Panasonic for example (know in asia a "National"), many customers that come into our store tell us that they have been using this brand of rice cooker for more than 10 years and they are still functioning properly. They just want to upgrade to a newer rice cooker with better functions, and tell us that they will not consider buying another brand.
     I hope at this point you would have an idea on how to choose a rice cooker suitable for your needs. Remember our question was "how to choose a rice cooker that would last a lifetime?" I would like to introduce a disclaimer. There are no rice cookers that would really last a lifetime. Since they are electronic appliances just like your cellular phones and computers, there are chances for them to break down. However, you could certainly apply the following tips to lower this chance. First, NEVER rinse your rice inside the inner pot of your rice cooker, as this will scratch the pot's non-stick coating. Second, NEVER add ingredients such as oil, salt and other spices into the rice cooker, as this will also damage the non-stick coating. Third, TRY NOT to use a rice cooker that is much larger than what you need (using a 10-cup rice cooker to cook only 1-2 cups of rice regularly). And finally, always keep the rice cooker clean. Make sure the heating element under the inner pot is clean, and if you have a computerized rice cooker make sure that the control panel is clean.
     If you follow these practices, you did not just earn yourself a rice cooker that is the most suitable for you, but also earn the most gorgeous helper that would share the laughter and happiness around your dinner table.

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