In their most basic form, rice cookers do exactly that – they cook rice! While they don't necessarily speed up the cooking process, they certainly make it easier. All you have to do is measure the rice, add water, and set it to cook. At the end of the cooking period, some of the water will have been absorbed by the rice, while the rest will have boiled off. Once this has occurred, the unit will either switch to "warming mode" or will simply turn off. Rice cookers can also be used to cook hot cereals, desserts and steam vegetables.
What to Consider When Buying a Rice Cooker:
Capacity: How much rice will you be cooking? Don't buy a larger (or smaller) unit than you need. A rice cooker operates best with a specific amount of rice and water. Also, when it refers to the cups of rice it makes, make sure you know whether the measurement is dry or cooked. There is a big difference between "10 cups dry" and "10 cups cooked"!
Maintenance: Does the rice cooker have a non-stick coating or will it require a long soak-time before cleaning? For ease of use, it is best to get a model with a non-stick coating.
Rice Textures: Think about the different types of rice you enjoy. If you enjoy a variety, look for a model that has different settings for the various textures.
Different Types of Rice Cookers:
Basic: The basic rice cookers simply turn on and off. Once the rice has been cooked, they turn off. They do not have a light indicator and typically do not have non-stick pans or steamer units.
Cook and Keep Warm: These rice cookers offer you the functionality of automatically lowering the temperature to "warm" after the rice has been cooked. The duration of the "warm" temperature will vary from unit to unit, but some will keep it warm for up to 12 hours. These units often have extra room for steaming vegetables and may come with a steamer inside the cooking pot.
Fuzzy Logic: These rice cookers are perfect for cooking a variety of rice and foods. They often have settings for brown rice, porridge, sushi, and rice texture (hard or soft). In addition to the warm mode, they also have a bigger steamer and automatic timers.
Induction: Induction heat rice cookers actually compensate for measurement errors and will still deliver even, properly cooked rice. They have highly accurate temperature sensors and heat distribution will be throughout the entire rice pan versus only heating from below.
Porridge Cycle: Designed for making a popular Asian breakfast rice, but can also be used for breakfast cereals and other slow cooking recipes.
Reheat Function: Will warm your rice back to proper temperature in 5 to 10 minutes and then maintain the heat, similar to the keep warm functionality.
Quick Cook Function: Allows you to bypass the soak time and begin cooking immediately. Texture Setting: Allows you to select the rice texture you are cooking or the texture you prefer - regular, soft or firm.
Steaming Basket: Perfect for when you want to steam your vegetables, shrimp or other quick cooking food.
Rice Spatula: Specially designed for serving rice.
Measuring Cup: Helps to ensure consistent results with portion size.
Recipe Book: Takes your rice cooker beyond the regular rice dishes!
Lid: Clear glass or plastic lid is useful for monitoring the cooking process.