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Rice is a staple food, consumed in many households all around the world. These days, the most convenient way to cook rice is to use a rice cooker. Modern rice cookers have all sorts of features to set them apart from cooking rice; some can cook other types of grains, and others can even make soups, stews, steamed food, baby food, yogurt, and more.
While many rice cookers these days are devices of wonder, have you ever thought about how early rice cookers looked like and functioned? If you have, then this article is a must-read for you.
Before the modern rice cooker, many Japanese people simply cooked rice in a clay pot over a traditional kamado stove, a type of firewood-fueled oven. Using the traditional technique, individuals would let the rice absorb water at low heat first and then cook it at high heat, and then gradually lower the temperature before setting it at a constant temperature for steaming.
Around 1937, one of the first iterations of the electric rice cooker came about when the Japanese Imperial Army attached electrodes to a wooden box and filled it halfway with water and washed rice. The electrical current would then finish cooking the rice.
It was around the 1950s when the first automatic electric rice cooker made its first appearance. The early rice cooker was met with doubt, with Japanese people wary about using an electric device to cook rice. Aside from being particular with how rice cooks, the Japanese were also specific with how they wanted rice to taste. Japanese rice is characterized by its sticky and sweet quality, both of which are only brought through proper rice cooking.
Manufacturers then took note of this challenge and despite the initial apprehension, rice cookers were embraced by the masses later in the same year and became a staple in numerous Japanese households.
Mitsubishi was the first Japanese company to improve the early rice cooker. The company recognized the need for an appliance that could make the rice cooking process simpler and produce consistently delicious results. The first generation of modern rice cookers featured a simple design that consisted of a single heating element and a mechanical timer.
Users would measure the desired amount of rice and water, place it in the rice cooker, set the timer, and wait for the rice to be cooked. The timer eliminated the need for constant monitoring, allowing users to focus on other tasks while the rice cooked. Sometimes however, even with timers, it often resulted in unevenly cooked rice, prompting Toshiba and Mitsubishi to improve their rice cookers.
In 1972, the “jar rice cooker” that can keep rice warm was released, and around 1979, the “micro-controller jar rice cooker” that can adjust heating according to rice volume became available. In 1988, rice cookers with induction heating (IH) made their debut and cemented their place in rice cooker history. While the micro-controller rice cooker was warmed from a heater at the bottom of the inner pot, induction heating allowed for the entire inner pot to be kept on high heat by controlling the strength of the current flowing through an IH coil. This also evolved further, allowing individuals to prepare rice the way they prefer: hard, normal, and soft.
By 1992, the first pressure IH rice cooker appeared, making it possible to cook not just white rice but also brown rice and millet rice. As time went on, rice cookers continued to employ additional features and began to incorporate fuzzy logic technology, allowing cookers to adjust the cooking time and temperature based on the moisture content of the rice, resulting in even more delicious and perfect rice.
The first rice cooker traces its roots in Japan, stemming from the traditional way of cooking rice. Early cookers functioned in a simple manner and only had a single heating element. From then on, manufacturers continued to improve the rice cooker, adding features such as a button for keeping rice warm, automatic shut-off, different settings for different types of rice, and the like.
The first prototype of the rice cooker was introduced in Japan around 1937. Made out of wood, the rice cooker was rectangular and a few electrodes were attached to the ends of it. All one had to do was pour a couple of glasses of water and several cups of rice grains.
The main pot had heat inside it which boiled the water in it, essentially cooking the rice. The grains absorb the water during the rice cooking process. The quality of the water used was imperative to ensure that the cooked rice turned out warm, fresh, and delicious.
During those days, people were always at risk of being electrocuted by the rice cooker. It’s due to that risk that rice cookers back then were not as popular as they are now.
In the United States, rice cookers were introduced around the mid-1970s and were quickly adopted by older rice-centric communities in South Carolina and Louisiana and by newer countercultural Americans who were increasingly interested in alternate cuisines and culinary practices.
Cooking rice is now easier than ever thanks to the rice cooker. From its first iteration as a wooden box with electrodes attached to the side, it has greatly improved over time thanks to the wonders of technology and innovation.
Rice cookers these days are available in numerous options and come with all sorts of features. You can now choose from various heating methods, use presets to cook not just rice but other foods, use a Keep Warm function, program the cooking time, press a button to clean the cooker automatically, and so on.