Rice is one of the largest crops in the world, and it’s one of the most commonly consumed grains. An estimated 3.5 billion people worldwide eat rice as a staple food, and it accounts for roughly 20% of their daily calories.
Rice, particularly brown rice, has a number of important health benefits. A single serving of brown rice contains plenty of manganese, an essential dietary element that helps your body convert calories into energy. It also aids in your body’s defense against free radicals, which are unstable molecules that may increase your risk of cancer and other diseases.
Brown rice is rich in fiber, which helps you feel fuller for a longer period of time after you’re done eating. It’s also a good source of selenium, a mineral that’s vital to your body’s metabolic and immune systems.
With all of these benefits, it’s easy to see why you’d want to add rice to your daily diet. However, cooking rice on a stovetop is trickier than it looks. It’s easy to burn rice when using this method. The cook time can vary between different types of rice, and you have to keep a careful eye on it as it simmers. Removing the lid on your saucepan to check on the rice allows steam to escape, which can increase the cooking time significantly.
You don’t have to go through multiple servings of burned or sticky rice to enjoy it as a nutritious carbohydrate. A rice cooker does the tough work for you — and you don’t even have to watch it as you cook.
Rice needs a lot of water and heat to transform from a small, stiff grain to a large, fluffy mouthful. A rice cooker takes care of the entire process in minutes.
Rice cookers are countertop appliances with a highly conductive metal bowl inside. A heating element and temperature sensor sit beneath the bowl. You’ll pour your rice and water into the bowl, then choose the correct setting for temperature and time.
After you turn on the rice cooker, it starts heating the bowl, which conducts heat into the water and rice. Once the water starts boiling, it’s eliminated in the form of steam and rises from the bowl. This steaming process helps the rice cooker maintain an even temperature. Without the steam, the water at the bottom of the bowl would get too hot for an even cook.
The rice in your cooker begins absorbing some of the water in the bowl at this point. This creates a fluffy texture that comes with a perfectly cooked batch of rice. Once all of the water has either disappeared as steam or been absorbed by the rice, the temperature of the bowl shoots up.
This sudden temperature increase triggers a mechanism inside the rice cooker to lower or turn off the cooker’s heat. Once the rice is done cooking, the cooker will either shut off or keep your rice warm until you’re ready to serve it.
When you’re deciding on a model of rice cooker to buy, consider first how often you cook rice and in what quantities.
“If you aren’t making rice frequently, this will be just another one-function gadget taking up space in your kitchen cabinet or lingering in storage,” explains our resident kitchen expert Julie Chernoff, a food journalist, dining editor of Better magazine and member of Les Dames d’Escoffier. “If your family does eat rice frequently, this can be one of the most-used gadgets in your kitchen arsenal.”
She suggests looking for features that make a rice cooker easy to use.
“You want a non-stick interior, an easy-to-clean exterior, a reasonably long electrical cord and a ‘keep warm’ function,” Chernoff says. “Bonus points if you can throw in water and rice in the morning, set the timer, and return to perfect rice when you return in the evening. Ease of use is something to consider, as is price.”
Do you already have an Instant Pot or another multi-function cooker? Remember that your rice cooker will take up extra space; there’s no need to double up if you already own something that cooks rice well.
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