Long before rice cookers became the multicooking, power-packed beasts they are known to be today, they were mostly manual and required a lot more supervision to make good rice. Back in the 1950’s Japan, electronic brands that are currently household names were just small companies trying their hand at creating devices that would improve the rice cooking experience. During the time, resources were scant because of the war-torn state of the country.
But even then, manufacturers and engineers found ingenious ways to create appliances that made lives better. These appliances would later go on to become staples in households all over the world. The rice cooker is one of them.
To understand the beauty of modern rice cooking, we’d have to understand the history of the first ever rice cooker. Before, cooking rice was a manual process. It required constant attention, and cooking rice became a bit of a chore. But with this struggle came the advent of rice cookers that used electricity to heat rice instead of a furnace. From then, companies only sought to improve their formula in order to create better products that would become staples across the world.
Centuries ago, people had to cook rice using a large stove in the corner of the kitchen. In Japan, the large stove was called a kamado. Cooking rice this way was tricky, because it meant one had to monitor the rice quite a bit. The process was then largely dependent on the amount of heat on the stove, so you would have to make adjustments yourself, else the rice would be under or overcooked.
There was even a Japanese rhyme so that cooks would remember how to heat the rice: “Hajime choro choro, naka pappa, butsu butsu iu koro hi o hiite.” This meant that the cook had to start cooking rice in the kamado with low heat, then gradually increase the heat, and lower it back down once bubbling occured in the pot.
It wasn’t long before the scarcity of resources and meager way of living drove manufacturers into making an electric rice cooker. There are a few sources that point to the first ever rice cooker. The first ever automated rice cooker that went on sale was made by Toshiba, who spent 5 years manufacturing it. However, one of the more primitive versions that never became available to public consumption was made by none other than Sony.
The simple, wooden rice cooker was actually Sony’s first product, but it didn’t work well enough to be sold in the market. It used “interlocking aluminum electrodes” on the bottom of the wooden tub, which was constructed in a simple and mostly primitive way. Without the fancy technology we know now, the product did not consistently make tasty rice. It relied too much on the weight of the rice as well as the amount of water to cook evenly. Thus, this crude rice cooker model never became available for public consumption.
However, it was one of the first recorded attempts at an electronic rice cooker, which was, at the time, a glaring achievement. Despite its failure to measure up to industry standards, this early rice cooker was one of the testaments to Japan’s innovation and ingenuity when it came to electronics.
However, the first electronic rice cooker was invented and sold in 1945 by none other than Mitsubishi. Because it only used heating coils as a heat source to make rice, the device wasn’t fully automated. Those who wanted to use it had to monitor the appliance for the duration of the entire cooking cycle, which means it required high maintenance.
Unlike today’s rice cooker models, you couldn’t really let this one out of your sight. It relied on the person cooking the rice to know when it should be turned off, a process that didn’t really differ much from cooking rice the old-fashioned way using a pot and a stove.
Toshiba was the company to ever create a fully automated rice cooker under the work of Yoshitada Minami. This early version of a rice cooker consisted of triple chambers for air insulation so the temperature of the environment wouldn’t affect the rice as much. However, this model still didn’t produce the desired consistent results, until Toshiba found a way to manufacture a double-chamber rice cooker.
Back then, rice and water weren’t added in the same pot. Rice was put in a separate bowl with the water in a container that surrounded it. Once the water started to boil, the rising heat inside the pot would trigger a bimetallic thermostat that would break off the electric circuit. This then became the first ever automated rice cooker.
Toshiba found success, and while this model was soon phased out, it became the blueprint for the standard rice cookers we now know today, marking this model a milestone in rice cooker history. Now, Toshiba is known for its broad arsenal of electronics, from a smart washing machine to automotives.
Standard rice cookers were once the most advanced pieces of technology when it came to cookware. The simple mechanism relied mostly on a magnetic thermostat for automation, a non-stick removable inner pot, and an insulated outer container.
Usually, the inner bowl is marked with water-level gradations that equate to the amount of cups of rice used. Since they were invented in Japan, the measurement of rice was based on the traditional Japanese system of measurement and was around 25% smaller than an American cup.
Microprocessors were only used in electric rice cookers during the 80’s, and by then, the standard rice cookers incorporated timers and memory functions. By the 90’s, electric rice cookers allowed users to choose between different cooking settings. Already, the face of modern rice cookers began to take shape. Automation was becoming a staple, and manufacturers were looking for ways to make bigger and better rice cookers for everyone.
Zojirushi is mostly known for being one of the first brands to manufacture fuzzy logic rice cookers. It started in 1983 when Zojirushi introduced the “micom” rice cooker, an alternative name for fuzzy logic. Zojirushi wasn’t the only one working on this kind of technology, but it is the brand that is still around.
Now, Zojirushi cookers are synonymous with foolproof rice cooking. People who want to experiment with different rice varieties while keeping their rice perfectly cooked each time might consider investing in Zojirushi models.
Rice cookers have expanded in size, technology, and design since the 1960’s. Now, they have incorporated different types of computer processors, induction heating, fuzzy logic technology, and so much more. There are rice cookers used in commercial settings, such as gas cookers, which cater to large groups of diners. For this article, we’ll be looking at home rice cookers and their different models.
The evolution of early rice cookers led to what was eventually one of the first commercially successful models: the standard electric rice cooker. These are the rice cookers that use a spring and magnetic thermostat to sense the cooking temperature and automatically stop cooking at the appropriate time. They consisted of an inner pot with a non-stick coating and an outer pot to hold the body, the heating plate, and the main circuitry.
With these rice cookers, you’re getting probably the simplest way to cook rice, but nothing more. The device only requires one flick of a button to start the cooking process.
The biggest leap in rice cooker technology was its automation. Back then, electric rice cookers that automatically turned off were a novelty. Once done, this rice cooker switches to a keep warm function to help keep the rice stay warm and fluffy for eating time. Up to this day, the standard electric rice cooker still holds its own among more technologically savvy counterparts.
These are some of the most common electric rice cookers today. They usually have all the basic functions from rice cookers we know and love. Included are automatic keep warm settings, a delay timer, and a few additional programmed functions for rice, depending on the product’s capacity. Models usually allowed cooks to make different varieties of rice with just the press of a button, including white rice, brown rice, Japanese rice, and more.
Although older cookers were capable of cooking brown rice and other varieties, digital cookers did away with the trickiness of the cooking process. All you had to do was prepare the correct amount of rice and water, and the appliance will do the cooking for you. Another benefit of these models were the extended rice warm settings and delay timer to make cooking more convenient for everyone.
Made famous by Zojirushi, one of the best rice cooker brands, fuzzy logic rice cookers are known to be some of the most high-end kitchen appliances in the market. The appeal of fuzzy logic cookers, at its conception, was a microcomputer processor built in the appliance that cooked rice the same way humans do. This means it was better at detecting changes in temperature, was able to recognize and correct flaws such as too little or too much water, and basically promised perfect rice almost every time. It was technology with a human touch, without any need for actual human supervision.
Fuzzy logic, in fact, has been around for quite some time now. This algorithm has been used to try and create intelligent home appliances, from air conditioners to washing machines. In electric rice cookers, it’s a great way to achieve your desired cooking results in each try, whether you’re a beginner or a pro. However, fuzzy logic cookers tend to cost more than the simple electric rice cooker. An electric rice cooker requires a little more supervision than its fuzzy logic counterparts, hence the lower price.
There are pressure rice cookers that are marketed as alternatives to rice cookers or even a kind of rice cooker. The Instant Pot is an example, and it cooks rice as well as other dishes using a combination of heat and pressure. These cookers have a lid with a seal and a lining in order to trap the steam once the temperature hits boiling point. The steam heating function and sealed environment can push the temperature inside the pot past boiling point. This means the food inside is quicker to cook and results in a more moistened, tenderized product.
These appliances are usually built for those who prioritize speed. But that doesn’t mean you lose all the nutrients in the cooked rice. In fact, some pressure cookers have technology that helps retain more of the nutrients in the food while still cooking at twice the speed of regular appliances. Another added bonus of pressure rice cookers: you can cook at high pressure settings or low pressure settings, depending on the kind of cooked rice you wish to have.
Another breakthrough in rice cooking technology is the induction heating cooker. Considered one of the most innovative types of cookers, this kitchen appliance revolutionizes rice cooking with its unique use of the entire inner pot to heat the rice. This small change in the heating process ensures that each grain of rice is cooked to perfection, so you get the best rice every time. Once done, the pot will automatically keep rice warm for an extended period of time. Many can attest to the quality of cooked rice that comes from IH cookers, and they are unlike any other.
While multicookers may seem like the most advanced devices out there, induction heaters or IH cookers actually take the cake. In cooking rice, it’s a great way to heat the pan more evenly and yield a perfect batch.
An induction heating cooker will use friction from a magnetic field to generate heat throughout the entire inner cooking pot. Yes, it can heat the entire pot, unlike most rice cookers which only conduct heat from the bottom of the pan and up. The even heat distribution ensures each grain of rice is cooked perfectly.
If you’re intimidated by cooking rice, worry not! The process is actually relatively simple, even if you’re just starting out. If there’s one thing to be grateful for, it is the evolution of electric rice cookers from being a manual appliance to mostly automated devices. It doesn’t take a chef to make a rice cooker work. All you have to do is make sure your measurements are intact and you’re good to go.
And speaking of measurements, you don’t have to have them memorized right away. We have a handy cheat sheet for the amount of rice and water you need for each kind of grain:
White rice (1 cup)
Brown rice (1 cup)
Making cooked rice doesn’t have to be rocket science. If you’re using a rice cooker for the first time, here are the basic instructions you need to follow:
Rice cookers have come a long way from being a primitive cooking vessel back in post-war Japan. Years later, almost every kitchenware and electronics company has their own products that offer different cooking experiences.
People across the world have likewise started to incorporate rice into their daily lives. From brown rice to white, to rice bowls and jambalaya, it’s hard to find a family that doesn’t absolutely love having rice.
An often asked question is: what is the best rice cooker brand? It doesn’t have a clear-cut answer. Cooking rice isn’t the same for everyone, and people have different preferences and needs.
For more information about the best brands in the rice cooker market, check out our guide to the top rice cookers.