A bowl of hot, fluffy rice served out of a mini rice cooker is one of the best food treats for beating the winter cold.
The human body’s natural warmth emanates from the stomach, and you can’t go wrong with a healthy dash of energy, proteins, and vitamins from various delicacies prepared using a rice cooker.
A rice cooker will come in handy for preparing some of the most important food for all the warmth you need to carry through the winter.
But, should you pick any rice cooker? What should guide you through the purchase? This article explores the most significant factors you should consider when choosing a mini rice cooker for preparing perfect rice and other grains during winter.
What is a Mini Rice Cooker and How Does it Work?
A rice cooker is an electric pot for cooking rice (and some other grains and non-grain foods.) Since its primary purpose is to cook rice, it serves us best to have a rice cooker as the name. However, as we’ll see later, you can prepare many other foods using the pot.
When you think of the rice cooker in terms of size, you can qualify a small one as a mini rice cooker.
The way a mini rice cooker works varies depending on the type of rice cooker you have. But the underlying working simple is the same across all the types – you add some rice and water, set a suitable cooking time, and leave the pot alone to cook the meal.
The pot has one or several heating elements or plates inside it that heat up when you switch on the cooker. The electric current is converted into heat and eventually transferred to the rice through the heating element.
The rice is heated just to boiling point until the rice cooks and dries fully. Once the electric rice cooker achieves this, it shifts from the cooking mode and uses a warm feature so that you can still have your rice ready for serving warm 4-5 hours after cooking it.
Why You Should Buy and Use a Mini Rice Cooker
You might be wondering why you should buy a small rice cooker instead of a larger one. Well, mini rice cookers aren’t recommended for the sake of it. Here are a few reasons they are an excellent addition to any modern kitchen.
Most modern homes are pressed for space, and the kitchen is one of the essential parts of every home. The many items that go into it, such as fridges, freezers, cookers, and shelves, take up a lot of the usable ground or floating space.
You always want to ensure you have the best kitchen for yourself by ensuring you make the best use of the tiny space available by using compact kitchenware whenever possible. That’s where a compact mini rice cooker comes in since it uses minimal space.
Reduce Cook-time Monitoring
Unlike other traditional rice cooking methods, a rice cooker allows you to leave it alone to cook your rice without any monitoring or interventions for the set cooking time.
Spot-on Cooking, Every Time
Preparing meals using a rice cooker is easy. Every time you cook your rice perfectly and evenly, with no trouble of overcooking or undercooking the rice.
One Pot, Different Dishes
As noted earlier, a good rice cooker will cook more than rice. You can also prepare other dishes such as steamed meat, steamed vegetables, porridge, cakes, soups, and cook other grains like quinoa and barley.
Prolonged Warming Time
With some rice cooker models, you can keep your cooked rice warm for 4-5 hours after preparation until you serve it.
Sometimes, you’re not ready to serve it right away, and the rice loses its warmth. In such cases, use the reheat functional to warm the rice again.
What to Consider When Choosing a Mini Rice Cooker
Now that you know what a mini rice cooker is, how it works, and the advantages of having one in your kitchen, let’s explore the most significant considerations you should make when choosing your first or next mini rice cooker (if upgrading).
The cooking capacity of a rice cooker is the number of cups of raw rice it can cook. For mini rice cookers, this ranges between one and ten cups, with several capacities in between.
The cooking capacity of the specific rice cooker you choose depends on the manufacturer or brand, but the most common are 1-, 1.5-, 3-, and 10-cup cookers. Some manufacturers have 4- and 8-cup mini rice cookers available for buyers on the market.
Rice cookers with a capacity of 1 to 3 are suitable for use by an individual, while a 5-cup rice cooker can work for three people. A 10-cup cooker is the best bet for a larger household of five people or more.
Each raw cup of rice yields two-fold, such that one raw rice cup results in two bowls of cooked rice, and so on for the number of cups of uncooked rice added.
If you cook only 1-2 cups of rice daily, a 3-cup rice cooker will suit you. A 5-cup cooker is enough if you cook 2-5 cups of rice daily, while a 10-cup cooker will be your best bet if you cook more than 5 cups.
The one important thing to note about the capacity of a mini rice cooker is that bigger is not always the best option for you. For example, a person who only cooks less than 3 cups at a time shouldn’t go for a 10-cup cooker.
If you use the cooker to prepare rice way too low than its capacity, the cooker won’t distribute the heat properly, and you will end up with bad rice.
Suppose you must cook a lot of rice once in a while because you have some guests coming over? Your best option is to cook rice twice rather than rushing to buy a bigger rice pot in such scenarios.
Type of Rice You Cook and Other Cooking Needs
All rice is not the same. Rice is differentiated by country of origin, variety, texture, aroma, grain size, and colour. The type of rice you cook should match the type of mini rice cooker you choose.
For example, jar-o-mat and traditional rice cookers are best for cooking white rice only, while micro-computerised or micom rice cookers are suitable for white and brown rice (although not all such models cook brown rice.)
If you would like to try other cooking methods such as baking, making yoghurt, and steaming, you should buy a micom rice cooker that can steam meat and vegetables, bakes cakes, and cook other types of rice like risotto, sushi rice, rinse-free rice, and sweet rice.
Some rice cookers can also cook soups, porridge, and congee. You should check the specifications of the cooker to see if it has extra functions other than being a dedicated rice cooker.
Congee is a thick rice porridge cooked for 1-4 hours at low heat – 1 hour for Japanese congee, and not less than 3 hours for Chinese congee.
Traditional and jar-o-mat rice cookers are not suitable for preparing congee. Using such a cooker to make the porridge raises the odds of damaging your rice cooker since the porridge will heat excessively and spillover.
A spillover is also potentially dangerous to you because the rice is an electrical appliance with a power cord connecting it to a mains source of electricity. To avoid the risk of an electric shock, you don’t want to mess with water getting into your wall socket.
A micro-computerized rice cooker with slow-cook functionality lasting up to four hours should serve you well when you want to prepare some thick congee.
Multiple Grain Options
Rice comes in three types of grain differentiations: short, medium, and long. The best-dedicated rice cooker should cook all three-grain varieties. The grain size of each rice type causes differences in how the rice cooks and appears when fully cooked.
A short grain of rice is less than twice its width and is more preferred for sushi. The resultant texture is sticky when the rice is fully cooked. Medium grain rice features longer grains with wider kernels. It sticks together due to its moisture and tenderness when fully cooked.
In long-grain rice, the grains are usually not less than three to four times in length as their width. Their starch composition makes the grains remain fluffy and fairly light and separate when cooked.
Apart from cooking rice, some rice cookers can cook other grains such as millet, barley, and quinoa.
Ease of Use
The kitchen has many appliances and utensils and is already a crowded environment. Even when you are a guru in the kitchen, you don’t want to add any complicated appliance that will be hard to use. That would beat the purpose.
Choose a rice cooker that is easy to use regardless of the type of kitchen you have. The ease of using a rice cooker may depend on several factors, but the ones discussed below are the most critical ones to pay attention to during the selection.
Since rice cookers are electrical appliances, they rely on electricity from a mains source in your house to function. As such, a cooker with a detachable cord gives you a better shot at portability. You can easily remove the cable and move the pot around within the house.
An excellent mini rice cooker should also come with a custom rice measuring cup to make it easier for you to measure the amount of rice you should cook at a time.
For ease of cleaning, the inside of the rice cooker should be a nonstick surface. Rice shouldn’t stick to the sides of the pot, as this makes cleaning harder. Check to see if the cooker you choose has dishwasher-safe components for even less troublesome cleaning.
The rice cooker should also have a large handle to make lifting easy, especially when the pot has food in it.
Steamer trays are another excellent addition to a mini rice cooker as they make it easy to steam meat or vegetables.
Some cookers also work as a food steamer for vegetables or meat during the same cooking session for the rice, meaning that your rice accompaniment meal gets ready at the same time as the rice itself.
Light or LED indicators for the various controls on the rice cooker are another critical detail to consider. An electric rice cooking pot with no lights highlighting the controls would be troublesome to use, especially in low-light conditions in the kitchen. A tempered glass lid is a good feature, too, as you can safely look in the cooking pot to check on your rice as it cooks.
Since you need to scoop out the cooked rice, ensure the rice cooker you choose has plastic serving spoons or a rice paddle as these won’t scratch the pot’s walls and ruin the non-stick feature.
Rice cookers usually have aluminium or stainless steel interiors, and you don’t want a metallic serving spoon scratching and denting the sides of the pot.
Variety of Functionality Features
Your chosen mini rice cooker should have as many useful features as possible for a device of its kind.
Such important features include a programmable thermostat/timer, slow-cook mode, quick-cook mode, non-stick walls, dishwasher-safe components, full cook alert, a ‘keep warm function, a ‘reheat’ option, among others.
Some advanced rice cookers have fancier features such as voice navigation and smart mobile app control.
However, these two features should not lure you into buying the pot unless you confirm the voice control accommodates your language and accent. The mobile app should also be easily accessible and operable on your phone.
The more useful functions there are in the rice cooker, the more advanced and better it is at its work.
While it’s not a must that your selected mini rice cooker should include all the beneficial aspects discussed above, this useful kitchen appliance must have as many of them as possible. The more there are, the better the cooker and the more you can do with it.
Be sure to check the cooker’s capacity, operational features, other cooking options apart from cooking rice, ease of use, and suitability to cook differently grained rice and other types of grains like millet and quinoa.