Rice! It is the most important ingredient in Japanese cuisine.
A rice cooker, or sui-hanki (炊飯器), is thus one of the most essential Japanese cooking tools. In fact, the first electric rice cooker was invented in Japan!
In this article, I take a deep dive into the world of rice cookers. We will learn how rice cookers work, the different features available, and five of the best Japanese rice cookers available today.
If you want to skip ahead to the product recommendations, click here.
Let’s get started!
Benefits of an electric rice cooker
Why not just cook rice in a regular pot? What’s the point of having this extra appliance that costs more money and takes up space?
For argument’s sake, here are some reasons you would NOT want to use a rice cooker:
- Costs more money (true – although there are many cheap options available)
- Takes up space (true – can’t really argue with that)
- Seems complicated to use (false – just press one button)
- It doesn’t cook rice as well as cooking in a pot (false – it produces more consistent, evenly cooked rice)
If you seldom eat rice (i.e once or twice per month), then maybe you do not need a rice cooker. But, since you are here on a website about Japanese cooking, you will probably be cooking rice fairly often. Now let’s look at the reason to use a rice cooker.
1. Quality and Convenience
The main benefits of using an electric rice cooker are convenience and consistency. A rice cooker can consistently produce beautifully cooked rice with very little effort involved.
Once you press the “cook rice” button, there is no monitoring needed, and no need to control the heat of the stove. All you need to do is sit back, wait 30 minutes or so, and you will have delicious, fluffy, perfectly cooked rice. In the meantime, you can also prepare your other dishes.
2. Easy to use
If you follow some simple steps, a rice cooker is fool-proof. There is almost 0% chance of producing burnt or goopy rice. Even if you completely forget about your rice, rice cookers will turn off by themselves. Most Japanese rice cookers will also keep your rice warm.
3. Easy to clean
The best Japanese rice cookers are super easy to clean. Most come with a non-stick inner pot, which makes washing up extremely quick. No more scrubbing the bottom of the pot.
4. Advanced features
If you have a more advanced Japanese rice cooker, there are a ton of other advanced settings to use.
You can set timers to start/finish cooking at an exact time.
There are settings for different types of rice (i.e. brown, multi-grain, etc.).
Some rice cookers also let you choose how soft/hard you want your rice.
You can even cook more than just rice. You can make entire meals in a rice cooker. My favourite alternative dish to make in a rice cooker is banana cake!
How does a rice cooker work?
A rice cooker seems like a magical device.
You put in some rice, add some water, push a button; and perfectly cooked rice appears. I’ve always wondered how it works. How does it know how long to cook? How does it turn off automatically?
Well, I finally decided to learn.
The basic rice cooker
A basic rice cooker has four basic parts — an outer body, an inner cooking pot, a heating plate, and a thermal sensing device (i.e. a thermostat). Using these four parts, it can cook perfect rice everytime. How??
Rice needs only two things to cook — water and heat.
When you press cook on your rice cooker, the heating plate heats up the inner pot, and brings the water inside to a boil. Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius (i.e. 212 °F).
After reaching this temperature, water will not get any hotter, no matter how much more heat is applied. Therefore, as long as there is water inside the rice cooker, the temperature inside the pot will stay at 100°C.
After all the water is absorbed by the rice though, the temperature inside the rice cooker will begin to rise!
When the temperature reaches a certain level above 100°C, the built in thermostat detects the increase, and triggers the rice cooker to switch off (or switch to a “keep warm” setting).
That’s it! Your rice is cooked!
Simple, isn’t it? So what’s with all these fancy rice cookers on the market? Why do I need to pay hundreds of dollars for such a simple device…? The answer: fuzzy logic.
Fuzzy logic rice cooker
Most advanced/modern Japanese rice cookers use the same basic principles as above, but instead of a simple thermostat that detects temperature over 100°C, they make use of a computerized system with “fuzzy logic”.
What the hell is fuzzy logic? Let’s look at some definitions:
Fuzzy logic definition: It is defined as a control logic that pretends to use degrees of input and output to estimate human reasoning with the integration of rule-based implementation. The technique used in the manipulation of undesired information or facts which involves some degree of uncertainty. (via https://www.educba.com/what-is-fuzzy-logic/)
That didn’t make sense? Let’s try another definition:
Fuzzy logic definition 2: A mathematical system that analyzes analog input values in terms of logical variables that take on continuous values between 0 and 1, in contrast to classical or digital logic, which operates on discrete values of either 1 or 0 (true or false, respectively). (via Wikipedia)
Hmmmmm. Still don’t get it? Don’t worry, neither do I. And, what the hell does this have to do with rice cookers?
Based on my amateur research, here is how I understand it:
Basically, a rice cooker equipped with “fuzzy logic” has the ability for much more detailed control over the temperature. The computer system gives the rice cooker the ability to adjust cooking time and temperature based on many factors — not just the water temperature.
So, while a basic rice cooker will simply bring water to a boil and switch off when the water has all been absorbed or evaporated, a fuzzy logic rice cooker can do much, much more.
For example, it can measure the outside temperature or humidity, and factor that into the cooking process. If it is a hot day, then the water / rice may heat up too quickly, so it will adjust the temperature down slightly for better results.
It can also sense how much water you put in, and adjust the cooking process based on that. It will also adjust temperature at different stages of cooking. So, instead of going directly from 100% heating power to 0% power, it can slowly decrease or increase the heating power as necessary. If you need to reheat the rice, it can control the temperature for that as well.
Many fuzzy logic rice cookers will have also have options for different rice types (brown rice, multi-grain rice, porridge/congee).
You can also choose if you want your rice softer, or harder, etc. Based on the options you select, the rice cooker will change it’s heating process accordingly.
Basically, a rice cooker with fuzzy logic system can think, and decide how it should cook the rice based on many, many factors that you probably would not even consider.
A well designed fuzzy logic rice cooker can give you perfectly cooked rice no matter the situation; even if you mess up how much water you put in. It can also help your cooked rice stay fresh longer by controlling the humidity and heat to prevent the rice from drying out as fast.
Interesting note: many other appliances use fuzzy logic like washing machines, dishwashers, and microwaves. Beyond kitchen appliances, other things like subway/metro systems, also use fuzzy logic!
Besides fuzzy logic, advanced rice cookers have some other features that set them apart from basic models. Let’s take a look at some of these things.
Factors to consider
Based on your budget and personal needs, there are various features to consider when buying a Japanese rice cooker. Here are some of the main ones.
Simple or fuzzy logic (micom)
As just described in the above section, you can choose a rice cooker with basic logic, or one with fuzzy logic. A basic rice cooker only has the ability to be on or off (or keep warm), while a fuzzy logic cooker will have a ton of other useful cooking options (rice type, reheat, timers, etc.).
A good fuzzy logic rice cooker will be much more expensive (usually well over $100). If you cook rice often, then it may be worth the investment. Many fuzzy logic enabled rice cookers are labelled as “Micom” which stands for Micro Computerized.
Inner pot material
There are various materials that the inner pot of the rice cooker could be made of (e.g. copper, aluminum, stainless steel, ceramic). The type of material used can improve the transfer of heat, thus making your rice cooker more efficient.
For example, copper or aluminum are both highly conductive, which means they will heat up faster and improve cooking time. Stainless steel is less conductive, but more durable.
Most inner pots nowadays are coated with a non-stick material for easy cleaning/scooping. Some materials are more scratch-resistant than others. If you are scared of toxicity from non-stick coating, then you should choose a rice cooker that has a stainless steel or ceramic pot.
Heating system – Basic vs induction heating (IH)
Basic rice cookers use a simple heating plate at the bottom of the rice cooker. It functions just like an electric stove. Some advanced (and expensive) rice cookers will use something called “induction heating”. How it technically works is another science lesson on its own, but here is a brief overview:
What is Induction Heating (IH)?
Instead of a hotplate at the bottom of the rice cooker, there are metal coils (usually made of copper) surrounding the rice cooker pot. When an alternating electric current (AC current) is passed through these coils, a magnetic field is produced. This magnetic field causes the molecules of the pot to move back and forth quickly, generating heat. The inner pot is usually also made of a variety of materials such as iron which helps make the process more efficient.
If that did not make any sense, don’t worry. For our purposes, it is more important to understand the actually benefits of induction heating for rice cookers.
IH Benefit 1: Heat control
First, induction heating is more accurate and controllable than a basic hot plate. When combined with a fuzzy logic computer system, the rice cooker has precision control over the temperature, and can produce extremely accurate readings. This allows the rice cooker to better adjust for human errors (e.g. wrong water amount), as well as other environmental factors (humidity, outside temperature, etc.). It can instantaneously change the heat level by simply strengthening or weakening the magnetic field.
IH Benefit 2: Heat distribution
Second, induction heating allows for more even heat distribution. While a basic heating plate will only heat from the bottom of the pot, induction heating heats from all sides which results in more even cooking of your rice. If the pot is made of conductive material (e.g. copper), then IH transforms the entire pot into a source of heat. This further helps all around heat distribution.
Rice Cooker Size
Like most appliances, rice cookers come in various sizes. The size of rice cookers are usually measured in how many cups of raw rice it can cook. Small rice cookers are usually around 2 to 3-cups, while the largest rice cookers are 10-cups or more. The most common rice cooker size you will find is around 5 or 6-cups, which is generally suitable for families (i.e. 3-5 people). Of course, the size you get depends on how many people you usually cook for, and how much you/they eat. 🙂
Some rice cookers come with other useful addons like a steaming pot.
It is also a good idea to ensure your Japanese rice cooker comes with a rice paddle (i.e. scoop/spatula), and measuring cup.
Japanese rice cooker brands
The last thing I want to mention before making recommendations is brand. The best Japanese rice cookers are, of course, made by Japanese brands.
Buying an established brand helps ensure that you will have a quality rice cooker. Some of the most famous Japanese rice cooker brands include Zojirushi, Tiger, Panasonic, and Toshiba (invented the first automatic rice cooker).
It is important to note that many Japanese branded rice cookers sold to the foreign market (i.e. outside of Japan) are not actually made in Japan. This is especially true for cheaper / budget-friendly models.
They are usually made in China, Thailand or some other country with lower manufacturing costs. Quality standards for exported versions may be a bit lower than when producing for the Japanese domestic market, but top brands should have decent quality control over their production.
If you want to be extra certain of quality, try to find a rice cooker that is actually made in Japan.
The 5 Best Japanese Rice Cookers
Here are a five recommendations of Japanese rice cookers to consider.
I focused on Japanese brands, and separated them by price level (budget-friendly, premium/mid-level, and super premium).
Cheap rice cookers will be around $50 – $100. Premium choices will be around $150 – $250. Super premium rice cookers will START around $300.
Best budget friendly:
The best entry level Japanese rice cooker on the market is the Zojirushi NHS-06/10/18. Zojirushi is probably the most famous/recognized Japanese rice cooker brand in the world. They have an outstanding reputation for making super high quality, well designed products that last an extremely long time. They are best known for their rice cookers, although they do make some other great products (breadmakers, water boilers, drink/food containers, etc).
The NHS is Zojirushi’s simplest, and most budget friendly rice cooker. It uses a classic rice cooker design that has been around for many, many years. The NHS-10 has simple logic, and features just a single button/switch to operate. It comes in three different sizes (measured in uncooked rice): 3-cup (NHS-06), 6-cup (NHS-10), or 10-cup (NHS-18). The 6-cup and 10-cup models have a keep-warm function that automatically activates when the rice is finished cooking. The 3-cup version will simply switch off when finished cooking.
One cool feature of the 6-cup and 10-cup versions is they come with a stainless steel steaming tray. This is super useful for steaming vegetables, eggs, fish, dumplings or whatever else you feel like while you cook the rice. The glass lid lets you easily see how your food is cooking.
The Zojirushi NHS rice cookers use a non-stick inner pot, and come with the essential rice measuring cup and rice spatula/paddle.
If you are looking for a budget-friendly, basic Japanese rice cooker with no fancy features, then the Zojirushi NHS 06/10/18 is the best option on the market. It is very affordable, with price ranging from around $40 – $70 (depending on size).
Note: The Zojirushi NHS model is made for the international market, and manufactured in Thailand
Alternative budget friendly option: Panasonic SR-G06FGL
Best budget friendly “Fuzzy Logic“:
Tiger JBV-A10U Micom Rice Cooker
If you want some of that fuzzy logic in your life, but don’t want to spend over $100 on a rice cooker, then your best option is the Tiger JBV-A10U Micom (I wish companies came up with easier names for rice cookers).
Tiger is another well established Japanese brand that makes rice cookers as well as other consumer products. They were actually the first company to produce an IH rice cooker with a ceramic pot.
This rice cooker comes in two sizes — 5.5 cup or 10 cup. It features a non-stick inner pot, BPA free cooking plate, and comes with a measuring cup, rice paddle and paddle stand. It also features four different cooking options — plain rice, brown rice, slow cook, and “synchro-cooking”. The synchro cooking — or “tacook” function — allows you to simultaneously cook something in the provided steaming/cooking plate at the same time you cook your rice. The rice cooker will monitor the temperatures to make sure everything is cooked properly.
The cooking plate is also specially designed so that the flavors from the food do not affect the rice below. A useful cookbook is included to help you make use of this synchro-cooking function.
Overall, the Tiger is a great entry-level fuzzy logic rice cooker. It cooks rice well, but lacks a bit of features found in more expensive rice cookers like a clock/timer, and additional cooking settings. It also has no sound to indicate when the rice is finished, but just a light.
The main downside of this cooker is that it is a bit difficult to clean the inner lid; and lacks a catch to collect excess water produced from steam when cooking.
If you want a step up from a basic rice cooker, but can’t fathom spending more than $100, then the Tiger JBV-A10U may be the best Japanese rice cooker on the market for you. At the time of writing, the 5.5 cup version is currently on sale for just $75 (via Amazon).
If you want to spend a bit more money, you can consider this crazy pink coloured fuzzy logic cooker from Tiger: Tiger JAJ-A55U
Note: The Tiger JBV-A is manufactured in China
Best Premium Option:
Zojirushi NS-ZCC10 / NS-ZCC18 Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker
There are many great options in premium/mid-level price range ($150 – $250). It was difficult to make a choice, but I think the best premium Japanese rice cooker available is the Zojirushi NS-ZCC10/18 Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker.
This gem from Zojirushi comes in two sizes — 5.5 cup / 1.0 L (NS-ZCC10) or 10-cup / 1.8L (NS-ZCC18) — and ticks all the boxes for things you want in a rice cooker, plus a bit more. It has been one of the brand’s all time best selling models, and for good reason.
Let’s take a further look at some of the design features which helps this Japanese rice cooker stand apart from its peers:
“Neuro Fuzzy” Logic System
First things first — this Zojirushi cooks perfect rice, every time. Each grain will be consistent, evenly cooked, fluffy, and delicious. This is due in large part to Zojirushi’s extremely well designed fuzzy logic system which they call “Neuro Fuzzy”. It allows the rice cooker to automatically make fine adjustments to the temperature and cooking time according to the type of rice, amount of rice, and other custom options you may choose. And, those options are seemingly endless.
Using the cooker’s simple LCD selection panel, you can customize cooking based on rice type (white, sweet, semi-brown, brown, and rinse free). There is also an option for cooking porridge (i.e. congee).
For white rice, you can further select the texture/hardness according to your taste (regular/sushi, softer, or harder).
The “quick cooking” option lets you speed up cooking time when you’re in a rush, but will result in the rice being a bit harder than normal. After pressing “cook”, the rice cooker will calculate and display how long it will take to cook the rice.
When the rice is finished cooking, the Zojiurushi will automatically switch to the “keep warm” option. It will regulate the temperature to keep the rice fresh for up to 12 hours!
There is even an “extended” keep warm option. When this is selected, the rice cooker will lower the inner temperature a bit (to approx 60°C / 140°F), which helps reduce dryness, discoloration, and smell.
Forget when you cooked your rice? Don’t worry, the LCD panel will display exactly how long it has been since the rice has finished cooking.
When you want to eat again, you can simply select the “reheat” button. The cooker will bring the rice back up to a more suitable eating temperature. Awesome!!
Heating system + inner pot
Another feature which lets this Zojirushi cook rice better is it’s heating system. While budget rice cookers will typically only heat from the bottom of the pot , this baby heats from the bottom, around the sides, and even from the top! This helps ensure even cooking all around.
To further help cook rice evenly, the inner pot is slightly spherical compared to other rice cookers which have a more cylindrical pot. The rounder shape further promotes even cooking throughout.
The inner pot is non-stick, but also scratch resistant. This means that you can wash your rice directly in the pot without worrying about scratching it.
There are markings on the inner pot to show you the recommended water levels for cooking different types of rice (white, brown, semi-brown).
Besides cooking perfect rice, there are a ton of other small details which really make this the best premium Japanese rice cooker. It has a timer so you can set the rice cooker to finish cooking at exactly the time you want to eat. There are even 3 different types of sounds you can choose from to notify you when the rice is finished cooking.
It is easy to clean thanks to its detachable inner lid. The inner pot has non-conductive (“stay-cool”) handles so you can easily hold the pot without burning your hands.
The power cord is retractable and there is a carry handle so you can easily store the rice cooker when it’s not in use.
This rice cooker comes with TWO measuring cups (one for normal rice), and one for rinse-free rice. It also comes with a rice paddle and paddle holder.
Made in Japan
To top things off, the NS-ZCC10 model it is actually made in Japan, so you can be extra certain that you are getting a high quality rice cooker.
If you are looking for a premium Japanese rice cooker, then you will not be disappointed with the Zojirushi NS-ZCC10/18. If you don’t believe me, you can read the 2000+ excellent reviews on Amazon (4.7/5).
It typically retails for around $200, but is on sale from time to time. Click the link below to check current prices:
Best SUPER Premium Japanese Rice Cookers
$400 for a rice cooker?? Yes, sir. Welcome to the super premium level of Japanese rice cookers. If you just want the best of the best, with the world’s latest, greatest rice cooking technology, then this section is for you. When you’re in this price range, you really can’t go wrong as long as you pick a reputable brand. Below are a couple of SUPER premium choices for you to consider. All of these rice cookers are made in Japan.
Panasonic SR-HZ106 Induction Heating (IH) Rice Cooker
In Western countries, Panasonic is probably best known for making televisions and microwaves. In Japan, they are known for making some kick-ass rice cookers. They were also the first company to introduce induction heating rice cookers to the market way back in 1988.
The SR-HZ106 is one of Panasonic’s top-of-the-line offerings for the international market. It uses induction heating coils from five areas surrounding the pot — from the lid, from below the pot, and from 3 levels around the middle of the pot. This ensures the rice is uniformly heated from all directions to produce consistent, fluffy rice.
The inner pot is made of seven different layers, each with its own purpose. The most outer layer is made of copper for better heat conductivity. The pot itself is made mainly of a magnetic stainless steel, which (with the help of induction heating) transforms the entire pot itself into a heating element. This helps promote consistent heating from all angles, and more evenly cooked rice.
The inner most layer is made of a diamond ceramic material which provides a durable, non-stick surface that is also scratch resistant. This means that you can wash rice directly inside the pot without worry about damaging the coating. It also makes cleaning up a breeze.
The rice cooker features 13 (!!) different pre-set programs for a variety of different rices and other foods. This includes white rice, brown rice, sticky rice, jasmine rice, multi-grain rice, porridge, and quinoa. There is also quick cook, steam cook, slow cook/soup, and even an option for cakes/bread.
Apart from all the cooking options, the SR-HZ106 also has all the bells and whistles you would expect from a super premium rice cooker. It has a timer so you can set when you want your rice to cook. The automatic “keep warm” option keeps rice fresh after cooking for up to 12 hours. The “reheat” button brings the rice back to the perfect eating temperature. The inner lid is easily detached, and the inner frame is made with stainless steel for super easy cleaning. The large, clear LCD screen makes it easy to see how much time is remaining, and what selections you are making.
Included with the rice cooker are two scoops (one for rice, one for porridge/soups/stews), and a measuring cup. It is only available in one size (5-cups / 1L).
Overall, the rice cooker also looks great in my opinion, and would make me jealous if I saw it in your kitchen.
As you can see, the Panasonic SR-HZ106 is much more than a simple rice cooker. It is more suitable to label it as a multi-cooker (?), as it can be used for such a large variety of dishes. Of course, it also produces delicious, perfectly cooked rice.
If you are looking to splurge on a super premium Japanese rice cooker, then you should definitely consider this Panasonic. It current retails for around $500!
Zojirushi NP-NVC10/18 Induction Heating Pressure Rice Cooker
Of course, Zojirushi would not be left out from the super premium category. The NP-NVC10/18 is one of the elephant brand’s top-of-the-line offerings.
It is full of the latest technology — all in the pursuit of extra perfectly cooked rice. It includes everything from the above mentioned NS-ZCC10 model, plus even more. Let’s look at a couple of the main features.
Induction Heating + Pressure Cooking
The first main unique feature is that it combines induction heating (IH) with pressure cooking. Based on the cooking option you select, the rice cooker will automatically apply one of three pressure settings. How does pressure cooking work? What is the benefit of changing the pressure?
As we learned in “How does a rice cooker work” section, water normally has a boiling point of 100°C, and will stay at this temperature no matter how much heat is applied. Hence, the maximum temperature inside the rice cooker will also be around 100°C when cooking. A pressure cooker changes that.
With the help of a pressure cooker, the boiling point of water can increase past the typical 100°C. It does this by trapping steam inside the pot which causes the pressure — and therefore temperature — to increase. Since the boiling point of water is higher (i.e 105°C vs 100°C), then the rice is also cooked at this higher temperature .
The increased temperature and pressure helps water and heat better penetrate the rice grains which results in more tender, soft, and fluffy rice.
This is very useful for cooking grains like brown rice which have a harder outer shell. According to Zojirushi, rice cooked under higher pressure can also stay soft for longer periods of time compared to normally cooked rice.
Fuzzy Logic + Artificial Intelligence
The second unique feature of this rice cooker is its fuzzy logic A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) system.
A typical fuzzy logic system will simply base the cooking process on the various options selected. This A.I. system takes it a step further.
It will actually “learn” from past cooking experiences and automatically adjust the cooking process (i.e. soaking time, steaming wait period) to produce your ideal rice (based on what you usually cook).
It even takes into consideration water/room temperature so that your rice will be the same in summer or winter. How does this work? I have no idea. It sounds amazing though.
Other premium features
Other than the above two technologies, there are a few other added features not found in lower end models. There is an additional cooking function for “GABA brown rice“, which is basically a more nutritious way to cook brown rice.
An “umami” setting increases soaking time and steaming time to bring more sweetness out of the rice. A “scorch” setting is available which lightly toasts the rice at the bottom of the pot to make it crispy.
Platinum inner pot
The inner pot of this rice cooker has also been further designed to increase the deliciousness of your rice. The nonstick coating on the inner layer is infused with platinum particles which makes the water become more alkaline.
Alkalized water penetrates the surface of the rice grain better, and is thus absorbed better by the rice. The result is sweeter, fuller cooked rice. The platinum coating is also more durable and resistant to scratches and peeling.
There was a ton of thought, research, and technology put into this rice cooker, and makes me think that it is worth every penny of the $500 or so it is selling for. The only downside of this rice cooker is that it has many extra parts to clean due to the pressure cooking feature.
If you want the latest and greatest rice cooking technology, then you should consider the Zojirushi NP-NVC10.
For a similar, but non-pressure cooker version, check out the Zojirushi NP-HCC18XH
There you have it. That’s about everything you need to know about choosing a Japanese rice cooker.
We went over the benefits of a rice cooker; how a basic rice cooker works; and some of the different options/features to consider (fuzzy logic, induction heating, brands, etc).
Finally, we looked at five of the best Japanese rice cookers available on the market depending on your budget.
I learned a lot about rice cookers when researching this article, and actually found it quite interesting to understand how it works, and the differences between various options. It is crazy to see how much technology and detail go into some of the more premium rice cookers.
I hope this article was also useful in helping you better understand and choose the best Japanese rice cooker for your own needs.
What type of rice cooker do you have? Let me know in the comments! One day, I hope to own one of those super premium rice cookers 🙂
What to read next:
How do you use a rice cooker? Check out the “How to cook rice with a rice cooker” guide
Updated Jan. 2021: Thanks to Mr. TG for some much needed corrections