Rice cookers: washing philosophies, brown rice and the salaryman setting

Before moving to Japan, I rarely ate rice. Bread, some pasta, and fresh, low quality udon noodles rounded out my starches. I never imagined that I would eat rice daily and get a rice cooker education!

The previous rice cooker post covered my top five rules for using cookers. This post covers water and rice, brown rice, and handy features.

Japanese rise with raw egg

hot white rice with raw egg – Hitoshi’s favorite!

This is the way we wash our grains

The dependence of rice on water from growth to table fascinates me. The first step I learned in cooking rice was washing. I simply washed without thinking why and learned more after meeting Hitoshi and talking with friends about their habits.

The purpose of washing is to rinse away dust stuck to grains, especially on white rice. Hitoshi told me that some people think that rice smells bad if it isn’t washed really well. Rice does smell differently when it’s cooking based on how “clean” it is, but it smells stronger rather than noxious.

Hitoshi’s initial preference was to wash rice by swishing it vigorously with one hand in the rice cooker bowl. After each swish, he would change the water, repeating until the water was clear. My preference was to rinse rice three times by swirling it in the cooker bowl without sticking my hands in the water. Three is a great number. Other than that, I followed no logic. My friend from Singapore lightly rinsed her rice, saying that anything more would get rid of healthy nutrients. A Japanese friend didn’t rinse her rice at all! I decided that there was not a rinsing rule but more personal preference.

After years of making white rice, I still swirl it in the cooker bowl but only twice. After each rinse, gently tipping the bowl into the sink drains the water. The water is still cloudy but it doesn’t bother me.

Brown rice is swirled once in the cooker bowl with my hand. There is no cloudiness but dust and bits float to the surface. Tipping water out without losing brown rice is trickier. It is slippery with the hard outer shell, whereas white rice grains stick to each other.

The community information dropped at my homes in Japan said to water plants with the rinse water and not to put it down the drain. I didn’t meet anyone who did this and owned no plants. Was this to reuse water or avoid clogging the pipes?

white rice in bin

Japanese rice in our bin – This was celebratory rice for our baby and is high quality! It had a taste to match.

Brown Rice

We started using brown rice about six months ago. I didn’t know there were two types of brown rice and it took some experimenting until the cooked version felt like it wouldn’t crack our teeth.

The first brown rice we bought was germinated, although this was not intentional. Our cooker has a separate setting for this version. Other than a shorter cycle, we didn’t notice a difference in taste from regular brown rice.

Two cups of regular brown rice takes about 80 minutes to cook versus about 40 minutes for white on the regular settings. This took me a while to get used to!

We have used brown rice in lazy sushi, kitty rice and rice balls with no problem. Recipes will follow if you aren’t sure what these are!

cooked brown rice in cooker

steaming brown rice in the cooker – notice the little steam holes?

Are you in a hurry? Try the salaryman setting!

This setting is also known as quick cook. On our cooker, white rice is done in about 30 minutes and I don’t notice much difference in texture. Hitoshi does and this continues to be a debate in our house.

I tried quick cook for regular brown rice and the result was hard, chewy rice that was not enjoyable. We didn’t try the quick cook setting with germinated rice. Perhaps you have?

I want some flavour!

In Japan, grocery stores sell mixes for rice or you can make your own. These mixes add different flavors. They come in dehydrated blocks that you throw into the cooker at the beginning of a cycle. There are also liquid and paste versions.

Flavorings with white rice have worked well but not with brown. We tried a liquid Kyushu Style seasoning from Muji. The flavor was nice but the brown rice was still hard. Perhaps the liquid needed to be adjusted. The next day, I tried miso and ginger brown rice from a cookbook and it turned out fine.

flavored rice

Failed flavored rice that we were going to feed to our baby before we discovered it was rock hard.

What else can I use the cooker for?

My rice cooker cookbook is packed with ideas that I never imagined a cooker could do. I’ve tried pearl barley, millet, couscous, quinoa, and cracked wheat. I have yet to try upside down cheesecake! What have you tried?

What rice cooker secrets can you let me in on? Feel free to share your questions, fails and successes!

15 thoughts on “Rice cookers: washing philosophies, brown rice and the salaryman setting

  1. How did the pearl barley fare in the cooker? I’m a three-times twirler, when it comes to rinsing the rice, but my husband never wash the rice and I’m not sure I can taste the difference:)

    • Really well! Let me know if you want the recipe. I’ve recently tried Jerusalem couscous a few times and am getting better results.
      😀 I think it can be a fine line based on palate, water quality, how old the crop is and perhaps more. Where is your rice grown? All the Japanese rice here is from California.

  2. Oh my gosh, this brings back memories! Ryosuke and I used to argue about the proper washing amount/type. He thought I was doing it “wrong.”

    Now we just buy pre-washed rice (and he does one more rinse, just to be safe). It’s a lot easier.
    I also haven’t tried those flavor blocks yet. That sounds really fun!

    • Ha ha ha! Everyone has their own rule, eh?! Pre-washed rice came out when we were living in Japan. It seemed sort of scandalous so we didn’t end up using it. I was fascinated! Does it look different? Taste different? Feel different? I remember reading some heated articles about how pre-washed rice was cheating or perhaps even evil. I’ll have to buy some and give it a try. 😀

      Ya! Those flavor blocks are super easy to use and usually tasty. Let me know if you try some! They are everywhere.

  3. Hi, Hilary! Now is the time when I reveal my secret! lol I strongly agree to your idea that three is a great number!!
    What I was taught were:
    -The first water you wash rice with is very important because rice absorb it. I heard some used mineral water.
    -Nobody told me how many times I had to swish rice but it’s too much if you swish until the water is 100% transparent.
    -The measuring method is… the quantity of water and the rice should be the same. So if you want to cook 2 cups (whichever) of rice the water needed for is 2 cups. But it depends on the conditions of rice. If the rice is new crop you will need less water because the rice itself has more water inside. So the older the rice the more water you need. Of course if you like your rice “al-dente” like me, you will need to reduce water. Maybe you want to know how much you have to reduce water, right? Maybe 5-10cc. But you’ve got to know it with your experiment!!

    I’m talking about Japanese type rice, the round one. I heard from my Thai friend their long rice don’t require through washing. Otherwise it will be broken into pieces…

    About two years ago there was a “boom” of making chocolate cake with rice cooker in Japan (or in Tokyo)… But I’ve never had the one I liked….

    Oh, I forgot to write another point. Cooling the washed rice in the fridge (for at least 30 minutes) will make the rice more delicious!

    • Awesome possum, Rei! Thanks much for sharing your wise ways. 😀 That’s neat about adjusting the rice for new crop vs. old. My rice cooker cookbook says to add more water for altitudes above 3000 feet. Interesting, eh?! Well, I guess it’s not that fascinating since I knew that water boils faster at… is it lower altitudes or higher? Can’t remember! I also can’t remember if we washed rice in Thailand. Probably not. We had so little water to work with. Ooo! We’ll have to try refrigerating rice!

      Hitoshi likes harder rice so he releases the steam twice and then stirs the rice as soon as it switches to Keep Warm. When his parents were visiting us, his dad said, “Whoa! Son! What are you doing?!” 😀

      We switched to filtered water to cook rice but not to wash it. Our tap water varies in quality and sometimes smells weird or looks red. I heard about people using “fancy” (just more expensive perhaps?) water to wash rice but I think that’s a little excessive.

      Would you say the chocolate cake was better or worse than the Kit Kat Pizza??? ;p

      Thanks again, Rei!!!!

  4. Here’s an email question from someone close to us with a reply.
    “Hi Hilary….just wanted to say that you talked about the ‘fuzzy logic’ feature on my rice cooker (a few weeks ago) and I’m still not sure what effect that has on the cooking of rice. Do you or Hitoshi know how that works??? It wasn’t a feature I chose – it just came with the cooker that would sing to me!!”

    Singing rice cookers are very important. I’m sad that ours only beeps. I would love to know the origin of the phrase “fuzzy logic”! Wouldn’t it be nice if the fuzzy ones were actually fuzzy and gave out hugs? My rice cooker manual doesn’t use that phrase. It calls the cooker “microcomputer-controlled rice cooker/warmer” but… the cooker is still a fuzzy logic one. My guess is that the term was maybe coined by Zojirushi??? Hitoshi said I should email them and interview them. Maybe I will. 😀

    From my experience, there are two types of cookers: the fuzzy ones that are also fancy and the simple ones. The fuzzy ones have a pile of settings. I also noticed a little spring in the bottom of the cooker where the bowl goes. If a grain of rice is stuck there, the rice cooker won’t turn on! Hitoshi and I were debating if our simple cookers in Japan also had the spring but we can’t remember. The fancier cookers sense how long the rice needs to cook based on weight. The simple ones do it, I’m assuming, off of factory presets.

  5. I miss Tamagokake-Gohan (hot white rice with egg ……yum!!
    Here in Canada, eggs are not supposed to eaten like this because of bacteria.

    • I’m still puzzled about this one. I can’t remember what your friend in Japan, Mr. Egg Expert, said about this. Eggs in Canada are refrigerated in the store but they aren’t in Japan. I think Mr. EE said that eggs should be refrigerated in the store in Japan, too. Shouldn’t eggs be okay if you wash them first? Or is it more some squeamishness about eating raw eggs in Canada versus Japan?

  6. I have a rice washer, it’s similar to a colander but the holes are smaller and located only at the bottom and at 2 side spouts. The advantage is that the water doesn’t drain that quickly, so I can swirl the rice around with my hand at the same time. I was told not to wash the rice in the bowl of the rice cooker because it can damage the bowl…(given that my rice cooker was quite expensive I thought better to follow that advice..).
    Anyway, I rinse and swirl about 3 times,I noticed if I do less there is sometimes a sort of “rice film” in the cooker. Not sure if that has to do with the type rice I use (koshihikari) but yes, 3 is a great number :-).

    • Now that you mention it, I think I heard somewhere about not swirling rice in the bowl. 😀 Thanks for the reminder! I’m lazy though and it’s so convenient. Our current bowl is looking a little scraped after 5 years of use but that could also be from washing it with a scrubby, even though we’re gentle or simply from the coating wearing out. I don’t think it lasts forever, although I’d like it to! When I tried to get a new bowl for my first cooker in Japan, I was told to buy a new cooker. That seemed like a waste so I stuck with the battered bowl.

      Your rice washer sounds great! Where did you get it? I notice the film, too. It doesn’t seem to be consistent though. Sometimes there’s nothing and other times the vent looks like a mini volcano and there’s water everywhere inside the rim of the cooker and almost a skin across the rice. I’ll have to ask my mother-in-law. 😀

      • I think Amazon com sells them them. Probably imported from Japan though… I bought mine with the rice cooker. Was very lucky to find a supplier in the UK who sells Zojirushi rice cookers. They do offer a replacement bowl, hope I wont need one for a long time though. However, in my case it will probably still be cheaper to replace the bowl than the whole cooker!

        • Good to know! It’s nice to have gadgets that make life easier. 🙂 I agree with replacing the bowl! My first rice cooker was not fancy although it did have a few settings that confused me completely until I got an explanation. Maybe because it was considered “cheap” was the reason why it was recommended I get a new cooker?? I’m not surprised though… appliances are considered old and not resalable far faster than I think is necessary. (Yes, I’m still mourning having to throw away my perfectly good stove when we left Japan!)

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