A rice cooker, often called a rice steamer, is a work top appliance specifically designed for cooking rice or other rice-based dishes such as risotto.
Many cooks realise how difficult it is to cook rice perfectly, and using a rice cooker ensures that the correct amount of water is used for optimum results, as well as controlling the heat and the length of time that the rice is cooked for.
Most rice cookers consist of a bowl for cooking the rice which sits in a metal, insulated container with a heating element and thermostat. The user simply adds rice and water, in the designated quantity, into the bowl and sets the rice cooker accordingly.
A steamer can be an electrical work top appliance or a non-electrical stove-top appliance which is used for steaming other types of food, such as vegetables, fish or meat. The benefits of steaming food as opposed to boiling or frying are that more nutrients are retained in the food and no oil is needed to cook the food, therefore it is a much healthier option.
If you wish to cook rice or steam food on a regular basis you might want to consider investing in a rice steamer or a general steamer and a few simple criteria will ensure that you purchase the one which meets your requirements.
A basic rice cooker is the most inexpensive type of rice cooker with the sole function being to cook rice. The most basic types have an on/off button, although some also have a keep warm function.
The more expensive rice cookers may have an integrated tray for steaming vegetables, fish or meat, making them multi-functional. There are also some which cook other types of food such as slow cooking.
Most rice cookers come with a spatula and rice measure.
Other features may include:
- Programmable timer
- Different settings for different types of rice such as long grain or brown rice
- Delayed start
- Cool-touch handles and/or body
- LED display
These can be electrical or stove-top and are used for steaming food.
Electric steamers are fairly simple appliances and consist of a heated base and usually three steaming compartments. They have a water drawer which needs to be filled prior to use to produce the steam, usually with a water level gauge. They often have a 60 minute timer with automatic switch off when the cycle is finished. Some general steamers also have an integrated bowl for specifically cooking rice.
The non-electrical steamers usually consist of a base pan, in which water for steaming is heated on the hob, and one or more stacked steamer baskets for the food, with a glass lid on top. The most basic and inexpensive type of manual steamer consists of one collapsible basket which can be used with any saucepan, but the specialised steamers can consist of between 3 and 5 baskets with a dedicated base pan. Variations on manual steamers can include asparagus steamers and fish poachers.
There are also manual steamers available for microwave use.
Firstly you need to decide whether you require a basic rice cooker, one that also offers steaming or a standalone steamer. Budget and features will also be a factor in your choice.
The next important criterion is the size and capacity of the rice cooker or steamer.
1. Rice Cookers
Rice cookers are either measured in litres or cups.
Most rice cookers now range from 3 cups to 10 cups or 0.8 litres to 1.8 litres. A 5-cup model should be sufficient for an average size family. A 1.8 litre rice cooker equates to approximately 10 cups.
Manual steamers can consist of 3 to 5 baskets, with pan widths from 16 to 22 cm.
Electrical steamers usually range from 7 litre capacity to a 9 litre capacity.
For both rice cookers and steamers, apart from the capacity, you should also consider the physical size of the unit and how much space it takes up both on the work-top and in the cupboard.
Some may be easier to store than others, for example, some models of steamer have fold down baskets.