My Life in A Grain of Rice and How I Found My Rice Cooker

Sunday August 18, 2013
“Your first look at the rice cooker can be a bit confusing, especially with the digital face on a fuzzy logic machine.  But the procedure is exactly the same with all models: choose a recipe, assemble your ingredients, measure and wash the rice, load the rice bowl, add the water, close the cover, plug in, and press the button.”

Our American rice fields

Our American rice fields

September, the official harvesting time for rice, is the official National Rice Month by the USA Rice Federation, advocates of the global rice market from seed to your dinner plate.

I love the idea of how America makes official months associated with food. National Beef Month, National Dairy Month, National Cranberry Month, National Tomato Month, and on and on. It really has nothing to do with anything except an American marketing concept for advertising that causes a focus of yours and mine energy. Rice is so integral to our nourishment, there was even a global International Rice Year in 2004 declared by the UN. How many people noticed is another story, but the economic agriculturalists, genetic engineers, and scientists at the world Rice Genebank in the Philippines, where rice cultivars are collected and stored, did for sure.

rice is known as food for enlightenment

But somehow I have affection for National Rice Month. After all it is a cereal grain and bakers deal in grains. After corn, rice is the world’s staple food grain. Rice can be grown just about anywhere there is plenty of water, adapting to delta lowlands as well as terraced mountain sides. There is not a photo of rice cultivation that doesn’t just relax me when I see it—lush and green against the blue sky. Grains of rice are actually the seeds of the rice plant, a kind of grass rather than a true grain. There are 100,000 distinct varieties of rice throughout the world, but they are all fall into one or two subspecies of Oriza sativa.

Rice is one of those subjects I could pick any place and write on, from history, folklore, and religion to economics, geography, botany, and food preparation.

So lets talk geography, one of my favorite subjects since I was very young that lets me gets scholarly. Entire civilization is said to be based on the co ordinated co operation that was needed to create the irrigation systems for the growing of rice. It usually grows in water, so planting and raising it is very hard work for farmers. Wet-rice farming is one of the oldest forms of agriculture known. While growing rice looks so gentle, the process is complex hard work and still often done by hand: planting it into seed beds, transplanting it to the fields, irrigation, harvesting, threshing, drying and polishing.

The rice heartland is Asia, right now figured by archeological evidence (using a technique called thermoluminescence of all things!) that domestication most likely took place in the Korat area of northern Thailand, in one of the longitudinal valleys of Myanmar’s Shan Upland, in Yangtze rice valley in China, Africa, or in Assam at least 10,000 years ago in the zones affected by monsoons. Agricultural settlements as we know it all originally flourished around limited geographic areas like large and small river deltas where the process of puddling soil and transplanting wild seedlings were refined. In several regional languages the general terms for rice and food, or for rice and agriculture, are all synonymous. Rice diffused itself to all the neighboring areas by migrant peoples–the Mohenjo-Daro in India and Sri Lanka, Persia, Japan, Philippines, so long ago it is almost a legend.

Rice is now grown on every continent except Antarctica. The crop was probably introduced to Greece and neighboring areas of the Mediterranean by the returning members of Alexander the Great’s expedition to India ca. 344-324 B.C. The Moors first grew rice in Spain and Northern Africa in the 8th Century. By the Middle Ages rice was established in the Greek-inhabited Sicily and Northern Italy (risotto rice). As a result of Europe’s great Age of Exploration, new lands to the west became available for exploitation. Rice cultivation was introduced to the New World by early European settlers. It is the Spanish and Portuguese who introduced rice to the Americas in the 16th and 17th Century. The Portuguese carried it to Brazil, and the Spanish introduced its cultivation to several locations in Central and South America. The first record for North America dates from 1685, when the crop was produced on the coastal lowlands and island of what is now South Carolina. The crop may logically have been carried to that area by slaves brought from Madagascar rather than carried in the pocket of a seaman. Early in the 18th century, rice spread to Louisiana, but not until the 20th century was it produced in California’s Sacramento Valley, especially the Japanese style short or medium-grain and the brown rice that is unmilled (wholemeal rice).

Which brings rice to my neighborhood.

Williams California Rice Field on Rt 20 to Yuba City by Judi Berdis

Williams California Rice Field on Rt 20 to Yuba City by Judi Berdis

I would visit my friend Trudy at her mother’s house in Live Oak, near Yuba City, in the shadow of a string of pointed little hills called Sutter Buttes, just north of Sacramento. In the yard just beyond the fuschias, was the raised irrigation ditches, sometimes rushing with water. On a hot summer night it was not unusual to don bathing suits and float in the cool water. We walked the dogs alongside them and gazed out across the vast natural beauty of the rice fields.

Rice is cooked by boiling or steaming, and absorbs water during cooking. It it usually cooked in just as much water as it can absorb. Electric rice cookers, popular first in the diminutive kitchens of Asia and Latin America, simplify the process of cooking rice and I can’t imagine even a day now without my rice cooker. For me rice went from a once or twice a week dinner accompaniment to an every day food after I tested recipes for the rice cooker.

our 10th anniversary cover

The Rice Cooker book began with my editor at the San Jose Mercury News, Julie Kaufmann, asking me if she had some recipes for the rice cooker since the manufacturer’s pamphlet was not only hard to read, but geared toward an Asian palate. Her husband had brought her a Sanyo machine from Tokyo airport and she didn’t quite know what to do with it. We half-heartedly agreed to do some research and maybe do a feature for the paper.  It just grew on its own from there to be a book. There just wasn’t many rice cooker recipes out there.

The rice cooker project was one of the best experiences I have ever had writing a cookbook even though it was a challenge because there were different style machines. Rice recipes are just fun to cook over and over, but the rice cooker was amazing. It cooked perfect like almost every single time and there was no need to watch it at all, since it automatically shifted to keep warm when it was done. Talk about the true concept of ready and waiting. I wanted to cook rice all the time and it encouraged creativity once the boundries of the machine were established.

But where to start? Rice is a vast subject. We first tackled the complicated ethnic-based composed rice recipes: sushi, biryani, paella.  Then ended up doing the most basic, simple recipes by making every rice on the market and doing a plain recipe for each since most of use eat just plain rice most often. Past the usual domestic brands the last 10 or 15 years, we can easily find those “fragrant” type of imported regional rices like the basmati from India and Pakistan, jasmine rice from Thailand in demand. There are also the sticky rices from Northern Thailand and Laos, and the misnamed wild rice which is, in fact, the wholegrain of a distant relative, a cool climate type of water grass native of the Great Lakes region of North America. The big surprise: every rice cooked up with a different texture and in a slightly different amount of time.

We collated three basic charts, one for long-grain, one for medium-grain, and one for brown rice, which we feel is at the core of the book with the basic recipes. We give a basic technique recipe for Chinese and Japanese rices, just like you get in restaurants, as well as the recipes Asian cooks use at home (the ones they never write down!!).  We then went work on pilafs and rice with a few yummy additions to make it more filling. We planned the main portion of the book to concentrate on these sections, since this is what the rice cooker is designed to do and this is the style of rice most people will want to make after making plain rice.

We did not want to recommend brands, but instead do an in-depth study of each of the 5 types of machines and what they have to offer, a sort of guide in hand for shopping. With these recipes and guides, the American cook can make any type of rice successfully in a rice cooker from the word GO. This was the first time all this information on cooking rice was in one place. Existing rice books are presented as travel books, types of foods to serve WITH rice, and composed complicated rice dishes, not plain rices past a recipe for white rice, brown rice, and wild rice–all stovetop, oven, or microwave.

in the rice cooker-lemongrass knot and ginger pieces

Then we got a big surprise.  The porridge cycle, a long slow cook cycle, was fantastic for risotto, grits and polenta, cooked cereals, even beans.  While traditional recipes call for lots of hands on work, the rice cooker eliminated all this.  We use this cycle also for dessert rice puddings and, one of our prides, small batch poached fruit.

The book has ended up not only the absolute perfect guide to ANYONE using a rice cooker, but the information on the available rices on the market is extensive. Even the USA Rice Federation noticed us and gave their stamp of approval. And I have all my favorite recipes in one place, so it ended up I wrote a book for myself so I wouldn’t forget all the wonderful recipes we thought up in a creative moment.

Beth Recommends

There are five types of rice cookers available on the market today, from simple to sophisticated, each reflecting a step in the evolution of the rice cooker. You can recognize them not only by the range of features, but by their price.  Choose your rice cooker by first analyzing what type of cooking you want to do with it.  If you only make Japanese medium-grain rice or basmati and steam a few vegetables, go for a simpler machine.  If you want the full range of timing and cooking capabilities, from porridge to brown rice, go for a digital model.

Models are labeled for what the cooker will do, such as Rice Cooker/Warmer or Rice Cooker/Steamer/Warmer.  If you do alot of steaming or make multi-component steamed meals, look for a model with a large steamer tray of baskets; this feature is not included in fuzzy-logic cookers.  Technology is constantly being updated and model numbers change often.  Just stay with one of the reliable brands and shop for the features you desire.

The first and most basic type of cooker is a Cook-And-Shut-Off Cooker and the second is a Cook-And-Reduce-Heat Cooker/Warmer. These are round metal housings with a removable aluminum rice bowl; the carrying handles are on the outer housing and have a simple switch on the front of the machine.  This on/off mechanism, while seemingly simple compared to the newer fuzzy logic machines, contain the same efficient heating elements with out the digital options.  It is a superior machine for steaming purposes in addition to making rice.

Beth's Favorite Zo Fuzzy Logic Rice Cooker

Beth's Favorite Zo Fuzzy Logic Rice Cooker

Then comes the Deluxe Electronic Rice Cooker model fitted with an electronic sensor unit, then the top of the line Fuzzy Logic Rice Cooker, and then the Induction Heating Rice Cooker, fitted with the state-of-the-art microm technology. These machines have heat-resistant plastic housings and hinged covers.  The electronic machine retains the round housing style, but the Fuzzy Logic and Induction machines are immediately recognizable by their digital face, function multiple-choice buttons, and elongated housing shapes that Beth has dubbed the “Queen Mum’s Hatbox.”  The fuzzy logic and induction models are not usually setup for steaming (you could use the expandable steamer basket, but it might scratch the bowl lining).

All cookers come in standard sizes of home rice cookers: the 3-or 4-cup (small), 5-or 6-cup (medium), and 8-or 10- or 14-cup (large) models.

bali rice terraces

Recipe and text copyright 2013 Beth Hensperger. If you copy the recipes and text forinternet use, pluse include my bline and link to the site.

    Your Comments

    4 comments Comments Feed
    1. hopesews 12/01/2010 at 7:13 pm

      There is a new kind of rice cooker the IH pressure rice cooker. Have you reviewed this kind? I.E.- Cuckoo, Tiger and Zojirushi. Can this type be used for your recipes and what changes need to be made? Will it allow for steaming?


    2. Beth 09/02/2010 at 4:23 am

      Yes you can use the ZO Induction Heating System Rice Cooker interchangeably with the Neuro Fuzzy and Microm cookers. This means you can use the recipes in my rice cooker book as written without any adjustment. This type of rice cooker does not do the steaming except if you place some ingredients on top of the rice while it finishes cooking. Some rice cookers have a small footed plastic tray that can be used for a small amount of steaming. The large on/off machine does the steaming more efficently due to the size. I love the model that has the plastic stacked baskets, Asian style, that fits on top.

      Back to the high-teck Induction Heating. The induction system uses the most advanced heating method in rice cookers today. Because of this new heating method, rice cooks exceptionally well. This IH Rice Cooker has the same multiple menu cooking functions as the fuzzy logic and microm: white (regular, softer or harder), mixed, sushi, porridge, sweet, brown, and quick cooking. However IH offers a GABA brown rice cycle. This is not a new variety of brown rice, but a newly discovered way of cooking brown rice to “activate” it and increase naturally occurring gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an amino acid in brown rice believed to make the rice more healthy. The brown rice is soaked at 104°F for 2 hours before the actual cooking begins.

      IH is different than the regular electric coil in the other rice cookers. IH heating method uses coils within the bottom of the rice cooker to create a magnetic field. When the stainless steel cooking pan is placed into the rice cooker and the unit is turned on, a magnetic field is generated to create instant heat. Through this technology, the inner cooking pan itself becomes the heat source utilizing both high heat and fine heat adjustments to control the cooking process. The result is more evenly distributed heat.

      In comparison, the Neuro Fuzzy® Rice Cooker & Warmer features electric coil technology that allows the rice cooker to ‘think’ for itself and make fine adjustments to temperature and heating time through the digital programming.

      Both styles of machines are excellent and make fantastic rice. I wouldn’t be without my ZO rice cooker.

    3. Marina 28/11/2011 at 7:33 pm

      Have two rice cookers (older National fuzzy model & the Cuisinart multi-cooker). Am considering getting one of the new Zo cookers (either the IH pressure cooker or the new Umami NS-Yac 10/18). Like to cook whole grains & beans & pilafs (loved the RC Ckbk & just ordered the revised ed. on Amazon). Do you know what the temperature settings on the Zo porridge &/or slow cook are? Emailed the Zo site & they told me not to use their machine for anything other than rice & did not tell me the temp settings. Sigh.

      Thank you. :)

    4. Beth 05/12/2011 at 7:09 am

      The Zo cookers have buttons for each application, at least mine does,and all the models I have seen. If exact temperature settings were needed, the machine manual would have a chart for that. Just push the porridge button, white rice, brown rice (use the white rice cycle for long grain brown rice), sushi rice for each type of rice.

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