How to Choose a Rice Cooker According to One of Japan’s Biggest Rice Maker Brands (+ How to Make Delicious Rice!)
As a country known for its rice, Japan is naturally home to a wealth of tantalizing rice dishes! In addition to the irreplaceable bowl of plain white rice accompanying everyday meals, there is sushi, curry, donburi, and more! There are also a ton of rice cooking equipment flaunting the latest technology, such as the electric rice cooker, which is loaded with a dazzling array of handy features. Considered an essential item in Japanese households, the electric rice cooker allows delicious rice to be cooked and enjoyed at the push of a button. However, with so many different electric rice cookers on the market, how do you find the right one? And how exactly does one use it to cook tasty, authentic rice? To find the definitive answer, we spoke with a representative from Tiger Corporation, one of Japan’s leading rice maker manufacturers.
Oct 12 2021 (Aug 12 2022)
How to Choose the Best Electric Rice Cooker
Choose Your Rice Cooker By the Number of People You Need to Serve
Before diving into the rice cookers themselves, it’s important to understand that Japanese people use the measurement unit “go” when cooking rice. “1-go” is roughly equal to 150 g or 180 ml, which is about one rice measuring cup and enough rice for approximately two bowls. When purchasing a rice cooker for yourself, it’s extremely important to consider the size before making your choice.
Rice cooker sizes in Japan currently range from 3-go to 5.5-go. It's recommended to size up to a 5/5.5-go rice cooker if you want to cook 3-go worth of rice, as there'll be plenty of space left over in the inner pot, allowing for proper convection of the air and rice and preventing uneven heating.
Choose Your Rice Cooker By the Heating Method
① Microcomputer-Controlled Rice Cooker
With this type of rice cooker, a heater controlled by a microcomputer is installed at the bottom of the rice cooker pot. As there is only one heat source, which is often on the weaker side, the heat is prone to being unevenly distributed within the rice. While the rice at the bottom will be soft and fluffy, the cooker’s inability to heat the entire pot at once can lead to hard, undercooked rice on the top. Because of this, microcomputer-controlled rice cookers are better suited for those who will be eating a single portion of rice. Compared to the other options below, microcomputer-controlled rice cookers are generally the most reasonably priced.
② IH (Induction Heating)
Using electromagnetic induction heating technology, IH rice cookers are able to generate heat within a metal inner pot. The heat transmission is more uniform than a microcomputer-controlled rice cooker and will reliably cook each grain of rice evenly. For those looking to eat delicious rice without fuss, this is a great choice!
③ Pressure IH Rice Cooker
This rice cooker combines the principles of IH with pressure cooking, which uses pressure to increase the boiling point and allow the temperature to rise above 100°C. Because the rice is heated and cooked over a shorter period of time, the resulting rice boasts accentuated sweetness and a satisfyingly springy texture. With a highly advanced performance and incredible heat retention, pressure IH is often seen on higher-end models.
Choose Your Rice Cooker By the Inner Pot Material
The inner pot of a rice cooker is either metal or nonmetal. This choice of material and shape will drastically affect the heat transmission speed and evenness, along with thermal retention properties and overall taste.
① Metal Inner Pots
The biggest feature of metal inner pots is the fast and efficient heat conduction. Most metal inner pots are made from iron, stainless steel, aluminium, or copper. Iron inner pots generate the most powerful heat, while copper pots have good thermal conductivity and far infrared effects. However, metal pots are also lacking in some areas, such as a tendency to quickly release heat and low thermal retention properties. This limits them to a temperature of around 130°C, preventing them from reaching the high temperatures needed to cook truly delicious rice and leading to lackluster taste and texture.
② Nonmetal Inner Pots
Nonmetal inner pots are made from all sorts of natural materials, such as clay and charcoal. In particular, the earthenware “donabe” is particularly renowned for its potent far infrared effects, allowing the heat to reach the core of each grain of rice. In addition, donabe have excellent thermal retention and can cook rice at roughly twice the heat power of metal. This ensures the rice is thoroughly cooked until fluffy and soft while drawing out its extra sweetness and umami flavors. “Suminabe” pots made from charcoal have similarly good heat conduction and far infrared effects, however, they are much easier to break than metal pots, making it important to handle them with utmost care.
What’s the Difference Between a High-End and Mid-Range Electric Rice Cooker?
By now you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of how to select an electric rice cooker! Today’s rice cooker market in Japan is brimming with fierce competition, resulting in an ample variety of sizes, heating methods, inner pot materials, and functions. Prices naturally range from just a few thousand yen to 100,000 yen and above. So, what exactly are the main differences between a high-end and mid-range rice cooker?
To understand more about the benefits of high-end versions, we’ll be taking a look at the leading Japanese appliance manufacturer Tiger Corporation's “Donabe Pressure IH Rice Cooker <Takitate> Donabe Gohobi Taki JPL-G100,” which was developed in 2021 and is said to be one of the world’s best rice cookers.
Donabe Pressure IH Rice Cooker <Takitate> Donabe Gohobi Taki JPL-G100
① Each Unit Takes 3 Months to Make! A Rice Cooker With a Real Donabe Inner Pot
In addition to using the highly recommended aforementioned pressure IH heating method, the JPL-G100 boasts an authentic donabe inner pot made in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, the home of Japan’s famous Banko ware porcelain. While many donabe inner pots only have a coating of pottery clay, the JPL-G100’s pot is a real donabe that takes a whopping 3 months to craft! The clay is adjusted depending on the temperature and humidity and is fired unglazed three times at high temperatures. The appearance, weight, and size of each pot is individually and precisely inspected to ensure the ultimate final product.
The pot’s material is sourced from carefully selected premium clay, making it durable and able to resist high temperatures (up to 280°C), along with being impervious to cracking from sudden cooling and maintaining consistent heat from the bottom to the sides. It also boasts fantastic heat retention and far infrared effects, ensuring a stable heat energy that is equally transferred throughout the entire pot with the intensity of a traditional “kamado” flame cooking stove. The rice inside will be quickly forced to undergo gelatinization, amplifying the fresh, sweet flavors hidden within.
Another major feature of donabe material are the large amount of fine, uniform bubbles generated when heated at high temperatures. These bubbles gently envelop the surface of the rice, reducing damage caused by friction between grains during the convection between air and heat while also locking in starch, the origin of rice’s sweetness. This inner pot by Tiger also comes with a 5 year warranty period.
② Equipped With Revolutionary New Technology: The Multistage Pressure Mechanism and Haritsuya Pump
While temperature fluctuation within the inner pot can occasionally be severe, the brand-new “multistage pressure mechanism” on the JPL-G100 ensures gentle temperature changes through step-by-step pressure control (see above image), drawing out the rice’s sweetness. Meanwhile, the “haritsuya pump” technology works to absorb excess water vapor, giving it the same effect as a traditional wooden “ohitsu” container or the wooden lid of a kamado stove. The temperature sensor installed at the bottom of the pot allows control over the moisture of the rice by expelling excess vapor during the high temperature steaming. This ensures that the finished rice has the perfect moisture content, making it brilliantly white with a firm bite.
③ An Adjustable Inner Pot Allowing Rice For One
Even if you have a family or housemates, there are times when you just want to cook a little rice for yourself! As the inner pot of the JPL-G100 is 5.5-go, it’s way too big for just one serving (0.5-go). To solve this issue, Tiger has created a special attachable inner pot lid to make it smaller and suitable for smaller servings of rice. Whether you’re cooking for yourself or a group, with the inner pot lid, you can adjust your rice cooker pot to the optimal size!
④ An Easy-to-Use, Easy-to-Clean Design
As rice cookers are an everyday item, in addition to versatile functions, ease-of-use and hassle-free cleaning are equally important. While previous advanced units contained lots of inconvenient individual parts needing to be individually removed and washed, the JPL-G100 is designed to be as simple as possible, with only the inner pot and lid requiring cleaning.
The Trick to Making Delicious Rice in an Electric Rice Cooker!
Once you’ve chosen the unit you like, knowing how to properly wash, cook, and store leftover rice is vital in ensuring your rice cooker is used to the best of its ability! According to the masters of rice, Tiger Corporation, the following points are key to delicious rice cooker rice!
Wash the Rice
One of the most important factors in delicious rice is maintaining its shape and nutrition while cooking. This is why all you need to do when washing rice is remove the attached rice bran and dust. While many in the past would say “wash rice until it’s perfectly clean,” rice nowadays is thoroughly processed before being sold. If you put excessive energy into washing it, you can damage the surface and destroy the nutrients that lie within.
When washing, the norm is to use cold, clean water. Lukewarm or hot water will increase the temperature of the rice while enhancing its water absorbability, which may lead to it picking up other odors. When first washing the rice, avoid soaking it in water for too long - pour out the water after around 10 seconds. Lightly rub the rice with your fingertips about 20-30 times without water. Once you’ve washed the rice and added water, immediately drain it and repeat 3/4 times until the water is a little clearer.
Pay Attention to the Amount of Water
Correctly understanding the ratio of water to rice is another fundamental key to making delicious rice. As rice cookers are preprogrammed with the correct times for soaking and steaming, there is no need to soak the rice beforehand. However, make sure the inner pot is placed perfectly flat and the rice is even before pouring in the water as per the scale indicated on the side of the pot. An uneven water level can lead to burning or boiling over.
How to Serve Rice
While many say that leaving rice for 10-15 mins after cooking to reabsorb moisture will make it firmer, modern rice cookers already have steaming time built into the cooking process, so it’s fine to open the lid and start eating as soon as it’s finished cooking. Use a rice scoop and cut the cooked rice crosswise and scoop it diagonally. This will allow you to serve the rice without breaking the grains.
Freezing and Thawing Rice
If you have leftover rice, should you leave it to stay warm in the cooker, put it in the fridge, or freeze it? While Tiger’s rice cookers have a handy heat maintaining function, Tiger says that leaving it in the cooker for a long time should be avoided as the rice may dry, change color, or lose its taste. Likewise, putting it in the fridge will cause the moisture in each grain to evaporate as the temperature drops, ruining its taste, deteriorating the starch, and making the rice turn dry and hard.
The best way to store rice is to immediately freeze it, which will ensure that its taste is locked in and preserved. The most common way is to place the rice into a container or evenly spread a serving of rice across plastic wrap, wrap it up flat, and cover the outer layer with foil. This will allow you to safely store the rice without damaging it. However, putting piping hot rice straight into the freezer may affect other items, so it’s best to quickly cool it first, such as by putting it onto a metal plate or placing it into a container floating on ice water. Once the rice is cooled, immediately put it in the freezer. By doing this, the rice grains will retain their moisture and the taste will remain unspoilt!
When defrosting, most people will put the wrapped up rice directly into the microwave and heat it for 30 seconds to 1 min at 600 W. After taking it out and breaking it apart a little with chopsticks, transfer it into a heat-proof container, cover it with wrap, and heat it again for 2 mins at 600 W (the time required will need to be adjusted according to the serving). Through this “two-stage heating method,” excess moisture is removed, allowing you to easily relish fluffy rice without any sogginess or stickiness.
Choose the Electric Rice Cooker That Best Suits Your Lifestyle!
Even for something as simple as rice, there’s a surprising amount of depth involved! And to get the job done right, you first need the right tools! Rice cookers are one of many keys required to make delicious food, and modern, multifunctional Japanese rice cookers are an essential in virtually every Japanese household. These days, many international visitors to Japan are likewise keen to pick up their own Japanese rice cooker to bring back home. Aided by the information in this article, you’ll be able to pick out a rice cooker that fits your needs and treat yourself to mouthwatering, perfectly cooked rice every night!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.