Space Grain

Fuzzy-logic rice cookers have been around for many years, but some people still prefer the old one-button kind. Despite all the previous advances, nobody thought to evolve rice-cooker aesthetic beyond tacky white plastic. Two new cookers—one based on the tried-and-true one-button technology, and the other on the fuzzy-logic mode—look slick.

The old kind of rice cooker works like this: add rice and water, then press a button. A heat sensor in the bottom knows when your water has evaporated and the rice is done (if you put the right amount of water in to begin with), and the cooker shuts itself off. It knows because boiling water stays at a constant temperature of 212°F, whereas solid matter—rice—gets hotter. Computer-controlled fuzzy-logic cookers allegedly sense how fast your rice is cooking and adjust their temperature accordingly to cook the rice more perfectly.

We tested one of both kinds using the popular medium-grain white rice. Every Asian kid was taught the so-called knuckle method to determine how much water to add when cooking rice. It’s an old-wives’ tale that’s supposed to do away with the need for voodoo inventions like measuring cups or kitchen scales. Here’s how it’s supposed to work: wash your rice, pour off the excess water, level the rice, stick your index finger straight down until the tip barely touches the top of the grains, then add water until it just reaches your first knuckle. Cook and you’re supposed to get perfect rice every time. It doesn’t always work. I think the correct rice to water ratio is 1:1.5. All rice cookers can cook brown rice—just make sure to add a little more water.

Gourmet Rice Duo 6
Breville, $44.99

Breville is an Australian company that’s been around since 1932. It makes everything from toasters to juicers, in brushed stainless steel, and the products look far more expensive than they are. We tested the company’s six-cup rice cooker, a common size that’s good for the average household.

The instructions insist the rice-to-water ratio is 1:1. We don’t agree, but played along. Sure enough, the rice came out al dente, not thoroughly tender, as you want with white rice. As a fix we added slightly less than half the amount of water we started with, stirred it in gently, and let it all sit about ten more minutes until the water was completely absorbed, and then the rice was perfect.

The cooker comes with two stackable steaming baskets designed for cooking food other than rice. You can use both baskets at the same time if you’ve got only water or stock in the pot; if you’re cooking rice at the same time, the grains rise too high. However, if you cook just a small amount of rice—say, a cup—in the pot, then you can use the shallower basket while your rice is cooking. Toss a handful of shrimp and a fistful of spinach in the shallow basket to steam, and you can have an entire dinner for one ready before you finish going through the mail. A clear tempered-glass lid lets you monitor doneness without losing steam.

Zutto Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker & Warmer
Zojirushi, $219.99

The Japanese company Zojirushi makes essential Asian household appliances—including hot water dispensers and top-of-the-line rice cookers. They’re renowned for their Neuro Fuzzy technology—which they say lets the cooker “think” and adjust during cooking. We think “fuzzy” implies that the rice cooker has artificial intelligence, and can somehow think and learn beyond what it’s been programmed to do. However, when we tested it (by putting in too little or too much water, for instance), it was unable to adjust on the fly to make rice that wasn’t under- or overcooked. However, it is smarter than other rice cookers in many ways.

For starters, the Zutto has settings for white rice/sushi rice, quick-cooking rice like Uncle Ben’s, mixed/seasoned rice, and rice porridge—also known as jook or congee. In the pot are helpful water-level lines that make the process foolproof: If you put in one cup of rice, then you add water to the “1” line in the pot—two cups of rice, add water to the “2” line, and so on.

There’s also a timer that allows you to easily cook other grains that the machine doesn’t have settings for. (It’s great for long-cooking steel-cut oatmeal, for instance.) And you can program the cooker to have your rice ready at a specified time. After a late night at work, it’s a comfort to come home to a waiting pot of fresh, hot rice. Scramble some eggs with scallions, add a squirt of spicy Sriracha sauce, and you’ve got nearly instant restoration.

Some quirky things about the cooker: The clock runs on military time—so if you want rice done at 8:00 p.m., that’s 20:00, soldier. And Hello Kitty fans will be happy to know that you can change the notifying beeps to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” instead.

The Zutto is considerably larger than the average five-cup rice cooker. But if counter space is not an issue, its excellent function and striking good looks—with a fingerprint-resistant gray matte plastic housing and a sleek oval shape—more than make up for its size.