Trends in Japan > Lifestyle > No Ordinary Rice Cooker
Some Models Now Make Cakes and Yoghurt, Too
(January 7, 2008)


Rice is the main staple of the Japanese diet. To bring out its full flavor, it is cooked in water at a high temperature. Rice cookers are everyday kitchen appliances found in virtually every Japanese home. In recent years, these devices have evolved in various ways. Some new models feature innovations in the materials used for the inner bowl or make fine adjustments to the cooking temperature to achieve the fullest flavor, while other models are attracting attention as multifunction appliances that can double as a slow cooker, or even be used to bake a cake or make bread.

Hi-tech, Multifunction Devices
In times past, rice was cooked in a thick cast iron pot on a coal stove. The pot had a heavy lid, but even when it bubbled over because of the high temperature, the heat stayed in to cook the rice. When the structure of Japanese houses changed, coal stoves disappeared, and something was needed to replace the cast iron cooking pot.

The first automatic electric rice pots made in Japan came on the market in 1955. Since that time, rice cookers have evolved into much more than just a tool to cook rice, with the addition of such features as a keep-warm mode and a Teflon-coated inner bowl to prevent sticking, followed by more sophisticated functions, such as a timer and a rice firmness setting.


Foods other than rice can be cooked too. (C)TOSHIBA CONSUMER MARKETING CORPORATION

The basic principle behind electric rice cookers is the transfer of heat to the inner bowl through a heater positioned under it, but more recently, IH (Induction Heating) rice cookers, which use electromagnetism to heat the inner bowl, have become the norm. Also, manufacturers are developing a variety of new rice cookers that incorporate pressure-cooking and steaming functions. Rice cookers have evolved into high-function tools as a result of innovations in the materials used for the inner bowl, including highly-conductive copper, silver or diamond coatings, and infrared technology. Sophisticated rice cookers costing as much as ¥100,000 (about $900 at ¥110 to the dollar) are selling better than might be expected, given that basic models can be purchased for a fraction of this price.


Some models can also bake cakes. (C)TOSHIBA CONSUMER MARKETING CORPORATION

Make Stews and Cakes Too!
Rice cookers are simple and convenient; the user can just put the rice in with the appropriate amount of water and let the cooker do the rest without having to worry about adjusting the heat. Because of this, they are very popular among the elderly and people who live alone.

Boasting excellent temperature control thanks to innovations in rice-cooking technology, rice cookers are actually ideal for cooking some other foods. Since the entire inner bowl is heated, the flavor is consistent throughout, making it easy to cook stewed dishes. Cookbooks devoted entirely to dishes prepared using a rice cooker are becoming popular. You can also make a variety of baked goodies, such as bread, cakes, and more. There are also some rice cookers that can even make yogurt or dress meat dishes. Caution is required however, since there are some rice cookers that will not operate without sufficient moisture, while some others, such as those that employ a pressure-cooking function, will not let you open the lid during the cooking process.

According to the Japan Electrical Manufacturers' Association, around 60 percent of the 6.5 million rice cookers shipped in Japan in 2006 were IH models. There are a wide variety of models to choose from, with prices ranging from ¥100,000 for a top-of-the-line cooker down to ¥20,000 for one with standard features. Rice cookers are different from both a pot and a frying pan. Incorporating the latest technologies, this convenient cooking tool continues to evolve, offering consumers a greater variety of functions in addition to making even more delicious rice.

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