Rice is one of the most popular carbohydrates as it’s inexpensive and straightforward to prepare. If you love rice and cook it regularly, you might wonder if a rice cooker is worth buying.
Rice cookers are worth buying if you regularly make rice and steamed grains or vegetables. It’s also worth considering if you struggle to cook rice perfectly, you make the same amount each time and have enough countertop space to accommodate one.
Rice cookers come in various sizes and have different features, and you won’t have difficulty finding one that responds to your needs. The larger and the more advanced features a rice cooker has, the more likely it is to be expensive.
Making rice in a rice cooker takes the same amount of time as preparing it on a stovetop in a pot. However, rice cookers rarely burn rice or prepare rice that is sticky or mushy.
Rice cookers are worth buying if you like hands-off food preparation methods. After placing the required amount of rice and water into your rice cooker, you press the start button, and it will make a beeping sound when the rice is ready.
If you’re not ready to eat your rice immediately, you can activate your rice cooker’s warming function and keep your rice warm for several hours.
Although they are bulky and take up valuable countertop space, rice cookers can be handy if you don’t have a microwave or stovetop. Compact rice cookers are popular with students with limited space and no other means of preparing food.
In this article, I’ll discuss what a rice cooker is, what it does, and if you can use it for anything else. I’ll also delve into rice cooker alternatives and discuss their advantages and disadvantages before concluding if they’re worth it or not.
What Is a Rice Cooker?
Rice cookers were first sold in Japan by Toshiba in the 1950s, and they have become increasingly popular ever since. So, what exactly are these appliances?
A rice cooker is a countertop appliance consisting of a cooking bowl, lid, thermostat, and a heat source to steam or boil rice automatically. It’s a plug-in appliance and takes the same length of time to cook rice as traditional methods, but it consistently cooks rice to perfection.
It’s not complicated to cook rice, but it’s easy to miscalculate the amount of rinsing, stirring, or water needed, resulting in clumpy, sticky, or burnt rice. Using a rice cooker prevents this, eliminating wastage and allowing you to enjoy your rice more.
A rice cooker’s inner cooking bowl consists of a non-stick coating to ensure that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom or sides. You should, therefore, avoid using metal or abrasive implements with your rice cooker.
Rice cookers come in various sizes to suit your needs. The most common sizes are:
- 3 cup (24 fl oz). Makes rice for one to three people.
- 5 cup (40 fl oz). Capacity for four to six people.
- 10 cup (80 fl oz). Ideal for making rice for a large crowd.
What Does a Rice Cooker Do?
You probably already know what a rice cooker is, but how does it work? I’ll discuss this below.
A rice cooker uses the optimal water to rice ratio to make fluffy and evenly cooked rice. Its heating element boils the water until it becomes steam, and the thermostat shuts off. The steam gently cooks the rice for about 20 minutes, after which the rice cooker automatically turns off.
For rice cookers, the best water to rice ratio is 2:1, and it’s up to the user to ensure that they place the correct amount of rice and water inside the cooker. The rice cooker will automatically determine the correct cooking time after placing the water and rice inside.
After turning the cooker on, the heating element’s temperature rises until it reaches 100°C (212°F). The rice gradually absorbs the water as it boils, making it softer and fluffier.
When the water has boiled, and the heating element has turned off, the resulting steam will cook the rice for its predetermined time. Rice cookers typically make a beeping sound when the process is complete.
Its function is automatic, so you don’t constantly have to monitor it to ensure that it doesn’t burn or become sticky.
Can You Use a Rice Cooker for Anything Else?
You can use a rice cooker to prepare steamed vegetables, hard boiled eggs, pasta, soup, risotto, stewed fruit, and oatmeal in addition to rice. Due to their simple operation, rice cookers are a relatively versatile cooking appliance.
Cooking steamed vegetables, quinoa, or stewed fruit in a rice cooker is easy. Simply add two to three cups of water, add the vegetables or fruit to the inner bowl, and switch your rice cooker on.
The best way to make risotto in a rice cooker is to add risotto, chicken or vegetable stock, mushrooms, and seasoning to the inner bowl and then activate the cook button.
Pasta doubles in volume when cooked, so ensure that your rice cooker is large enough to accommodate it. A water to dry pasta ratio of 2:1 is best for rice cookers.
Making oatmeal in a rice cooker involves placing one cup (8 fl oz) of oats, 2 cups (16 fl oz) of water, cinnamon, and fruit into the bowl, and pressing the “cook” button.
If you want to make banana bread in your rice cooker, place all the recipe’s ingredients into the bowl and switch it on.
For rice cooker soup, precook any meat, and place the soup ingredients into the cooker. Ensure that you don’t overfill the inner bowl as the soup may splash over the sides.
How Much Do Rice Cookers Cost?
Rice cookers cost anywhere from just under £30 to £1500. The brand, capacity, and extra features all influence the price. You can buy a small, basic rice cooker at the lower end of this price range without a timer, but a larger, state-of-the-art rice cooker with extensive features will cost more.
I’ll discuss what affects rice cooker prices in more detail below:
Smaller, single-capacity rice cookers are typically less costly than larger, commercial-sized ones.
It’s essential to choose the right size rice cooker as using one that’s too large will waste electricity. On the other hand, a rice cooker that’s too small won’t cook enough rice for you.
Inner Pot Material
Many modern rice cookers have an inner pot consisting of Teflon or another non-stick surface. This helps prevent the rice from sticking to the surface and burning.
Inner pots made from cheap metals may not be dishwasher-safe and can develop rust after a while.
Delay, Express, and Warm Functions
Rice cookers with a delay function allow you to set a predetermined cooking start time, while an express feature cooks rice in a fraction of the average time.
Many basic models don’t have a rice warming function, making it inconvenient if you want to keep the rice for later.
Additional Steam Trays
Rice cookers that are larger and on the higher end of the price spectrum often come with additional steam trays that allow you to cook your vegetable sides simultaneously.
If you like the convenience of an all-in-one cooker, choosing a more expensive model with a steam tray is something to consider.
Basic rice cooker models usually have glass lids that don’t seal the rice cooker closed when cooking. Although it’s fun to watch your rice cooking through a glass lid, it can leak out steam and water, making a mess or burning you.
More expensive rice cooker models have vented and sealed lids, which are safer.
Alternatives to a Rice Cooker
If you’d like to prepare rice, but you don’t have a rice cooker, the good news is that there are many alternatives, including:
- Thick-bottomed pot
- Slow cooker
- Instant Pot
- Dutch oven
I’ll discuss these alternative rice-cooking methods in more detail below:
Cooking rice in a pot on the stovetop is the traditional preparation method but requires constant surveillance.
Rice is also delicate, and a thick-bottomed pot helps prevent burning.
After placing the correct amount of rice and water in your pot, gently simmer it for about 20 minutes until the rice is cooked.
If you have a slow cooker, you can use it to prepare rice, but it will take longer than using a rice cooker or the traditional method.
Place the required amount of rice and water in the slow cooker, put the lid on, and set it on low. The total cooking time is between two and two and a half hours.
An Instant Pot is a convenient way of making rice and has a special rice cooking function like a rice cooker.
All you need to do is put your ingredients into the Instant Pot, select the “rice” function, and wait five minutes for it to cook.
Making rice in the microwave is quick and easy! The best way to microwave rice is to use a vegetable steamer, but any microwavable dish is ideal.
After placing the required amount of rice, salt, and water in the dish, cover it with a lid or cling film and microwave it on high for 20 minutes.
Using a Dutch oven is a beautiful way to make rice because it has a thick, sturdy base with a tight-fitting lid.
It takes around 25 minutes to cook white rice in a Dutch oven but double that time to prepare brown rice.
Advantages of a Rice Cooker
There are many compelling reasons to invest in a rice cooker, including:
- Rice cooks evenly with no stickiness. If you struggle to cook rice to perfection using traditional methods, a rice cooker can help you cook it evenly without burning.
- Fuss-free rice cooking. When using a rice cooker, you can throw in your rice, water, and salt, turn the appliance on and forget about it. It will automatically shut off when it’s finished cooking the rice.
- Available in various sizes. Whether you’re a multi-person household, or it’s just you at home, there’s a perfectly-sized rice cooker out there for your needs.
- They keep rice warm for many hours. Rice cookers can keep your rice warm for several hours after preparing it, allowing you to make it in advance.
- They are dishwasher safe. With modern rice cookers, the usable parts are usually dishwasher safe for your convenience.
- Can save on energy costs. Rice cookers typically use around 0.5 electricity units an hour. However, if you make rice on the stovetop, it normally uses three electricity units an hour.
- They are very versatile. In addition to making rice, you can prepare a wide range of other foods in your rice cooker.
Disadvantages of a Rice Cooker
Although rice cookers offer many benefits, they have a few drawbacks:
- Can dry out the rice. Some rice cooker models can dry the rice out when the warming function is used.
- Not as versatile as slow cookers or Instant Pots. You can steam a wide range of foods in a rice cooker, but they aren’t as versatile as Instant Pots and slow cookers.
- They take up counter space. Some people keep their rice cookers packed away, but this makes it inconvenient when you want to make rice. Your rice cooker will take up valuable counter space if you have a small kitchen.
- Poor investment if you only use it occasionally. If you only make rice occasionally, you’re better off using another method, as it will take years for your rice cooker investment to pay off.
- Modern rice cookers can be challenging to operate. If you’ve never owned a rice cooker before, you may struggle to understand how to use it correctly as the electronic functions and the user manual can be confusing.
- Rice cooker size limits you. If you want to cook rice for a large group but your rice cooker has a small capacity, you won’t use it. You could always make multiple batches, but it is less convenient than using a large pot on the stovetop.
Are Rice Cookers Worth It?
Now that we’ve considered the pros and cons of buying a rice cooker, we can decide if they’re worth it. Let’s find out below.
Rice cookers are worth it if you regularly cook rice or steamed grains, and you’re looking for a hands-off preparation method. It’s an excellent option if you don’t have access to a microwave or stovetop or you want to save on energy costs.
People who cook rice regularly but in varying quantities may find picking the correct capacity rice cooker challenging. It may be more convenient and energy-efficient to use a stovetop pot in such cases.
Compact rice cookers are worth the investment if you are a student, live alone, and need a small and inexpensive method of food preparation. An added benefit to buying a small rice cooker is taking it with you while traveling.
Steaming food in a rice cooker is a healthy food preparation method and does not require oil or butter. If you’re trying to lose weight or eat more healthily, buying a rice cooker could be worth the health and lifestyle improvement.
It’s worth buying a rice cooker if you want to encourage yourself to eat more rice. White rice is a refined carbohydrate, but brown rice contains more dietary fiber, is lower in calories, is a low-GI (Glycaemic Index) food, and helps regulate blood sugar levels.
Adding chopped vegetables to your cooked rice makes a heart-healthy and low-calorie meal.
However, if you’re interested in making all your food preparation easy, you may be better off considering an Instant Pot or a slow cooker. Although rice cookers can cook many foods besides rice, slow cookers and Instant Pots are more versatile and can be similarly priced.
Selecting only one multi-purpose plug-in cooking appliance can save space on your countertop as well.