I had always seen rice cooked in a pot on the stove, I had also used a hotpot to the same effect. I then purchased a rice cooker, where the small but powerful appliance changed my cooking habits forever.
I was concerned that the cooker would produce rice that I was unfamiliar with, in retrospect, I’m not sure why I worried. What was the worst that could happen? My rice turns into porridge?
All you have to do is measure the correct amount of rice, place it in the appliance, wash the rice, measure some water then switch the machine on. An audible beep informs you when the rice is cooked. You get to enjoy perfect rice every-time.
But that’s not all. New models push the limits of the term rice cooker. Equipped with features like magnetic fields, fuzzy logic and artificial intelligence, and with cooking versatility ranging from stew to bread, today’s rice cookers are the go-to kitchen appliance.
A Brief History
Before Japan’s post-war revival, people cooked rice on large stoves made to accompany giant pots. The nature of these stoves made controlling temperatures tricky and cooking delicious rice difficult.
Manufacturers attempted to make up for the lack of technology at the time, instructing the cook to begin at low heat, then increase the heat, and then lower the heat again when the pot began to bubble. Not the most technical of advice.
The post-war period left companies searching for new ways to make money. Cash was hard to come by and rice was often traded as currency. War factories closed down and left Japan with plenty of electricity but few ways to utilize it. These two factors would soon lead to a rice cooking revolution.
At the time, Sony focused on modifying and repairing radios built to strict wartime specifications but were looking to expand. How could they take advantage of the electrical productivity of a rice-fed nation like Japan?
The first electric rice cooker was a simple invention. Two interlocking aluminum electrodes which were connected to the bottom of a wooden tub, not very advanced and it was very restrictive. The result depended heavily on the kind of rice used and the weight of the water. Tasty rice was a rarity, as the rice cooker produced mostly under cooked or overcooked rice. It was not the best prototype to hit the small appliance market.
Sony were not alone in working towards a practical and convenient rice cooking appliance, and thanks to competition, the quality of rice cookers quickly improved.
In 1955, Toshiba released the first widely used commercial rice cooker. After trying different techniques, they invented the double-pot indirect cooking method. This is where a cup of water was poured into the outer pot, and the machine automatically turned off when all of this water evaporated, signaling that the rice was ready.
Because of the technological boom in the 1950’s, Japan brought many appliances to the market, at a price many households could afford. These included refrigerators, television sets and washing machines. The rice cooker could have easily been declared Japans savior. The convenient appliance became a cultural mainstay, offering safely cooked, delicious rice while rendering the more dangerous, inconsistent large pots obsolete.
By 1960, competition in the market meant more features were added to rice cookers. The first examples of built in ‘keep warm’ functions and some models included timers.
With modern technology, more and more features are appearing on rice cookers. There are a multitude of options available. If you are in the market for a rice cooker, be sure to read some rice cooker reviews. You really can’t go wrong if you ensure the model you are looking at has all of the features and functions you require.