Rice forms a staple dish in many homes around the world, making rice cookers some of the most used kitchen appliances. What’s more, this smart appliance “knows” when the rice is done and promptly shuts itself off. But how does it do this?
A rice cooker knows when rice is done because it has a thermostat that switches off once it senses the temp is above 212°F (100°C). The water has all been absorbed, meaning the rice is ready. The sensor triggers the heating mechanism to go off, preventing the rice from cooking further.
In this article, you will discover more on this topic, including:
- How a rice cooker works.
- How to tell if your rice is done.
- The benefits of using a rice cooker.
- How to use your rice cooker effectively.
- How to choose the best rice cooker.
How a Rice Cooker Works
Cooking rice conventionally is something not many people can pull off successfully.
You see, rice needs copious amounts of water, plus heat to transform small hard grains into big, fluffy particles. This process requires precise measurements, timings, heat levels, and water to rice ratios.
A rice cooker enables this transformation by taking the rice through 4 cooking stages. The rice:
- Sits in the liquid
- Absorbs water (steams)
A rice cooker comprises a cooking pan, an electric heating plate, and a thermal-sensing device.
The outer shell contains the thermal sensor and heating element, while the inner cooking pan holds the rice. The sensing device consists of a tiny spring-loaded thermometer set into the bottom of the apparatus that helps to gauge the temperature of the contents inside the cooking pan.
To cook rice, you place water and rice inside the cooking pan.
The weight of the pan presses against the thermal-sensing device, causing the heating plate to boil the water, and the rice starts to cook. To put it simply, a rice cooker cooks rice by transferring heat from the heating plate to the cooking pan.
The water in the cooking pan boils at 212°F (100°C) then continues to simmer steadily while maintaining this temperature. However, after the rice absorbs all the moisture, the temperature begins to rise. The rice cooker detects the change in temperature and either switches to a warming cycle or goes off completely.
By now, the rice is done cooking and now enters the resting phase.
This is why a rice cooker knows rice is done due to the sudden rise in temperature, or when the internal temperature rises beyond 212°F (100°C) once all the water has been absorbed fully. The boiling water produces steam which gradually cooks the rice.
While it cooks, the rice absorbs the water, expanding to double its initial size.
The type of material used to make the cooking pan can impact heat transfer, thereby determining the time it takes to cook your food. For instance, aluminum and copper are highly conductive, meaning they transfer heat pretty quickly.
It’s not possible to adjust a regular rice cooker’s mechanism to accommodate different rice types, such as short-grain, long-grain, or brown rice, which typically absorb different amounts of water.
However, certain models like Fuzzy Logic rice cookers are designed to adjust both temperature and cooking time, making them more effective. A good example is the Zojirushi Rice Cooker and Warmer from Amazon.com.
How To Tell Your Rice Is Done
A rice cooker will let you know that your rice is cooked in several ways. Let’s discuss those ways further.
The Rice Cooker Switches Itself Off
The great thing about using a rice cooker is that you don’t have to worry about figuring anything out. This is because once the rice is done, the rice cooker turns itself off automatically. Moreover, the rice cooks perfectly and is neither dry nor mushy.
The Cooker Switches To Warm Mode
Some rice cooker models shift to warm mode once the rice is ready, which helps to keep the rice warm for serving. It also ensures that any excess moisture gets eliminated before serving. A great model to go for is the Aroma Housewares Rice Cooker, available on Amazon.com, as it does all of this and more.
The Cooker Comes With an Indicator Light
A rice cooker also comes equipped with an indicator light that helps to show when your rice is done. The light usually stays on when cooking is in progress and goes off once the rice has cooked.
The indicator light usually shows a different color from the power light, making it convenient to tell when cooking is complete.
For example, while the rice is cooking, the light might stay green, then change to orange during resting time. Note that notification lights depend on the manufacturer, so check your device’s manual to find out what light to look out for when you are done cooking.
Some rice makers also notify you that your meal is ready for consumption through repetitive sounds.
Below is a short video showing you how to cook rice in your rice cooker:
How To Determine the Amount of Water To Use in Your Rice Cooker
Using an inadequate amount of water in your rice results in uncooked rice. The rice cooker will turn off once all the water is absorbed, leaving your rice half-cooked. On the other hand, too much water might lead to the rice overcooking and turning soggy.
For perfectly cooked rice, always use twice as much water as rice. In other words, measure 2 units (cups, grams, mL) of water to every 1 unit of rice or in the ratio of 2:1.
Having said that, several factors impact the quantity of water you need to add to your rice.
These include the amount of rice, rice type, and whether you washed the rice before adding it to your rice cooker. For instance, rinsing rice prior to cooking helps eliminate starch, preventing it from boiling over, thereby losing some of the liquid.
Good quality rice like Basmati makes it easy to cook your rice to perfection. This type of rice is also low in starch, so it won’t bubble over while cooking.
Another thing to note is that a change in altitude could affect how your rice cooker functions. This is because water takes a long time to boil at low altitudes. What this means is that if you travel to an area with a lower altitude, you may want to factor in the higher boiling point and use less water.
Likewise, the lower boiling point in higher altitudes enhances the chances of making undercooked rice. This means that you will need to add some extra water.
The Benefits of Using a Rice Cooker
The most significant advantage of using a rice cooker is that it does all the work for you. You only need to place the right amount of water and rice in the cooking pan, switch on the power and leave the rice cooker to do the rest, with no stirring and no lifting the lid to check on the rice while it cooks.
Keeping your rice covered throughout the cooking period traps in steam, ensuring you get light, delicious fluffy rice. Furthermore, rice needs to rest for a couple of minutes before consumption, and the warm setting allows for that.
Here are other benefits of using a rice cooker:
- It saves time.
- It is convenient to use.
- It is portable.
- It’s easy to use, as you simply switch it on and leave it to do its work.
- The cooker’s warm function keeps your rice nicely hot, thus ready to eat.
- It is versatile and you can use it to make other foods apart from rice like soups, grains, meats, or veggies.
- It makes even the most inexperienced cook look like a pro effortlessly.
- Consistency, because it always delivers perfect results.
How To Use Your Rice Cooker Effectively
While designed primarily for rice, this versatile cooking appliance is also useful in cooking other types of food such as eggs, oatmeal, and spaghetti. With such a wide range of applications, it’s essential to use and maintain your rice cooker well so it can serve you for the longest time.
Here are helpful tips to ensure you use your cooking divide appropriately.
Wash the Rice
Washing your rice prior to cooking is essential because the rice might contain particles such as talc, which wash off easily upon rinsing in water. Rinsing rice also gets rid of excess starch, which tends to make the rice sticky, leading to less exciting outcomes.
Use the Accompanying Measuring Cup
The rice cooker usually comes with a measuring cup. Rice cookers sport an optimum load capacity, so you need to use the cup to ensure you’re filling the cooking pan with the correct quantities of water and rice.
To illustrate this, a rice cooker with a 7-cup capacity would work best when used to cook 4-6 cups of rice. As such, preparing 8 cups or 1 would not deliver optimal results.
Use the Cooking Pan’s Measuring Lines as a Guide
Different rice varieties need different quantities of water to cook well.
Fortunately, most rice cookers sport measuring lines etched on the inside of the cooking pan. These are typically ideal for short-grain white rice and some brown rice varieties. Therefore, you can use these to guide you on the amount of liquid to use if you prefer not to use the measuring cup.
For best results, follow the instructions on your rice package regarding the amount of water to add. Also, note that older rice typically requires more water to cook properly.
Below are additional helpful tips on how to best use your rice cooker:
- Avoid leaving your rice in the rice cooker’s warm setting for an extended period, since doing so can cause the rice to dry out or overcook.
- Leaving cooked rice in the rice cooker once it’s turned off can lead to bacteria growth.
- Switch off the rice cooker manually when steaming vegetables or heating soup. Otherwise, the device will continue running until all water boils off.
How To Choose the Best Rice Cooker
If you love eating rice, a rice cooker can help streamline the cooking process, allowing you to work on the accompanying meal elements. A rice cooker is ideal for anyone looking for:
- A compact cooking appliance.
- A quick and easy way to prepare your rice.
- A working mom, or other parents, with a busy schedule seeking a helping hand in the kitchen.
Choosing the best rice cooker entails determining the best product to suit your needs. Factors that may affect your choice include the following:
- Features: High-end rice cookers boast an array of advanced features, including programs to speed up cooking time, keep rice warm, or reheat rice. A see-through lid is excellent for monitoring your meal as it cooks, while a steam vent prevents your liquid from bubbling over. Ultimately, the more the features, the pricier the rice cooker.
- Size: Consider the amount of rice you’ll need to prepare for a typical meal. A large-capacity rice cooker might be suitable for a large family but not for preparing rice for a single person. Again, if you plan to cook other types of food using your gadget, go for one that comes with a steaming tray. You can use the tray to steam your vegetables while your rice cooks.
- Cooking pan material: You also need to consider the material used to make the inner cooking pan. Many people prefer stainless steel or aluminum pans that feature a nonstick coating since the coating makes it easier to remove the rice and clean the pan. Clay or charcoal pans are naturally nonstick, as they can be a good alternative too.