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Review: Umami Micom Rice Cooker by Zojirushi, Part 1

The following is the first of a three part review series that I will be doing on Zojirushi’s new Umami rice cooker. This first review will go over the basic functions and features of the machine, a look into the actual performance of the cooker over a period of two months, and then an evaluation of the rice itself. Parts two and three will go into cooking other dishes besides white and Genjimai rice, which Zojirushi provides a couple of recipes for.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I have a Panasonic rice cooker/warmer and that while it has faithfully cooked me rice for almost 10 years now, there is one thing about it that just drives me absolutely crazy: It dries out my rice super fast. I could cook rice for dinner at 6 PM and then wake up in the morning and the edges of the rice pot are all crusted up and I’d need to scoop the top hard layer off before eating the rice below. So while it cooked rice well, I’ve also wasted a massive amount of rice over the years, mostly due to plain old forgetfulness.

Okay okay okay. Laziness was a big factor, too.

Still, everyone else I know has a warmer that enables you to eat delicious, hot rice the next morning, so it’s always burned me that I had to suffer through this cooker. Why I should have to refrigerate my rice into cold, lifeless grains just because my rice cooker was moisturizationally challenged was beyond my comprehension.

Zojirushi Umami Rice Cooker

Lucky for me, Zojirushi is releasing a new rice cooker with a new trademarked rice cooking setting called Umami and they were willing to send me one to try out for a review. If you’re not familiar with the term, Umami is what the Japanese consider the “fifth flavor” and means “pleasant, savory taste”.

Basically, it means it’s the “delicious” flavor and Zojirushi is putting forth the claim that by cooking your rice on their Umami setting, your rice will have enhanced deliciousness. There are cookbooks written about Umami, which I find amusing, since I think all books should be about “delicious” food.

Now, being a Japanese American from Hawaii, it should be stated right up front that I grew up eating rice practically every day. It’s my go-to starch. There are family-famous baby photos of me and my brother with the tell tale stray nori piece on our face and an empty bowl of rice in front of us. A popular phrase here in Hawaii is, “Go home, cook rice.” When I eat, I make sure that I portion my bites to properly distribute my rice throughout my whole meal. Having food left over but no rice is terrible rice distribution.

What I’m trying to say is, I love rice and am very particular and opinionated on how rice should taste.

Serve me a plate of wild rice, Thai sticky rice, or long grain rice and I’ll kindly stick up my nose and pout about the lack of plain, short grain rice to eat my meal with. I’m not particularly finicky about my brands, usually buying the 20 lb bag of Calrose on sale for $10.99 in the weekly ads, which tends to be either Hinode or Diamond G. Being the type to forget to cook rice right away, I tend to stick with the “Quick Cook” function most rice cooker/warmers come with. Really, what could be worse than the Hamburger Helper being ready while the rice is still cooking?! (yes, my silly family eats rice with pasta…)

First, an overview of the stats from Zojirushi:

  • Micro computerized Fuzzy logic technology
  • Zojirushi’s exclusive Umami setting soaks and steams rice longer for enhanced flavor
  • Versatile slow cook function to cook soups and other menus
  • Automatic keep warm, extended keep warm and reheating cycle
  • Spherical inner cooking pan and heating system
  • Delay timer (2 settings)
  • Easy-to-read LCD control panel with Clock and Timer functions
  • Detachable and washable inner lid
  • Detachable power cord for easy storage
  • Menu settings include: White, Umami, Mixed, Sushi, Porridge, Sweet, Brown, GABA brown, Rinse-free, Quick Cook and Slow Cook

Zojirushi Umami Rice Cooker

Zojirushi sent me the 5.5 cup cooker, the other model being a 10 cup cooker. I don’t really have the counter space for a 10 cup monster, so I’m happy they sent me this size. The first thing I was happy to read about was the timer. What a totally ingenious feature to put onto a cooker, enabling you to time it (after setting the clock) to be done cooking rice at a specific time! Whoever thought of such a—

Panasonic Owns Me

O M G did I just get owned by my Panasonic?!

Yeah, this is my old rice cooker. I totally didn’t realize that I had a timer on it all these years. It just goes to show what a ditz I can be sometimes. Ignore the blue nail polish, I don’t know what Baby Girl was thinking.

Cord

One of the first things I noted was that there’s no retractable cord, which is a shame, as retractable cords make for lots of space saving and look much cleaner placed in your kitchen. This cooker has a monstrously fat cord that doesn’t bend easily. It sticks out of my wall in a rather yucky fashion. I hope they consider adding a retractable cord to later versions of this type of cooker.

Accessories

The cooker comes with two measuring cups, which you can use to measure both rice and water. The green cup is for when you do “no-rinse rice”. It also comes with a rice paddle and a rice paddle holder, which you snap into place on the right side of the cooker. I haven’t yet tried no-rinse rice, so I’ve yet to use the green cup.

The rice paddle comes with little bumpity bumps, which are supposed to help with mixing your rice and is supposed to keep rice from sticking to your paddle. Unfortunately, I don’t like the paddle, as rice still sticks to it. If you want to keep it rice-free, you’ll need to have a little bowl of water to store it in, otherwise when you store the paddle in the holder, the rice will simply crust on it.

I have a little baby paddle and that one is very efficiently non-stick. When rice does stick to it, a quick tap on the side of my sink will cause the dried grains to fall right off. It’s not the case for this paddle, as you have to pick off the dried rice and it actually sometimes hurts my fingertips. Not a big deal if you just buy one that works better.

Menu

The menu of the cooker is situated around the digital interface, with the default rice setting being Umami. The lid opens by pressing a big silver button at the top of the cooker. I don’t really like the way the lid closes. It doesn’t snap shut very easily and if you’re not careful to shut it tight, the lid will spring back up. This can be disastrous if you have an absent-minded self-serving rice eater that doesn’t notice he or she has left the lid open, thus drying out your whole pot of rice. My last cooker would snap shut with a quick, gentle “slam”.

Quick cooking your rice can take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how much rice you’re cooking. Now, I once wanted to make some brown fried rice for a bento and decided to use the brown rice setting on my old cooker. Little did I know that cooking brown rice on a brown rice setting takes around 90 minutes. Insane, right? Apparently, it’s the same way with this new one, taking anywhere from 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes to cook brown rice. As if that wasn’t crazy enough, you can try the GABA brown setting, which will take at minimum 3 hours and 15 minutes to cook! I have yet to try this setting, but I have to admit I’m ready to go buy a bag of brown rice just to try it. According to the instruction manual, it “activates” your brown rice for increased nutritional value.

So in other words, super hero rice. Must try!

After you’ve selected the appropriate setting, it’s time to press “Start”. Once you do so, a cute little musical tone to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star will play.

Don’t mind Kamaboko, she’s just excited.

Time Left

Once the cooker is 10 minutes out, the time will disappear and a countdown will begin. I now have five minutes until my rice cooker sets off another musical tone. I’m not sure what this one is, but on several occasions it’s caused Mr. Pikko to freeze what he’s doing, quickly turn his head, and say, “What’s that?!”

It’s highly amusing.

Once your rice is done cooking, let it steam for a few minutes and then open it up and toss the rice around. This will help to fluff it up.

Umami Rice

This is a bowl of Umami rice, though I admit it’s a bit drier than it should be because I was still getting the hang of the water adjustments you have to make for the age of your rice. I have some really old rice and you need to put more than the recommended amount of water. There are recommendations for new and old rice in regards to water in the manual.

Moment of truth, right? I hate to sound lame, but when I tasted it, all my little complaints about the lid button, the cord, and the paddle didn’t seem to matter. The rice tasted utterly fantastic. It’s not just it’s immediate taste; there’s a distinct aftertaste with the umami rice that is, in fact, sweet and tasty.

I’ve eaten exceptionally good rice before at a Japanese restaurant and it made me want to eat bowl after bowl. With establishments like those, I’m sure they buy the fancy pants brand of rice that cost 20 bucks on sale at Marukai, but this rice that I’d made was from a bag of Calrose about 2 years old! Just to make sure I wasn’t imagining things, the next time I cooked rice, I used the Quick Cook setting. Sure enough, the rice tasted just like I’d made it for years. Like rice. There was a definite difference!

Stir Fry

Here’s some umami rice with beef stir fry. Nummy!

As I mentioned earlier, Umami rice can take at least an hour to cook, which is about twice as long as Quick Cook. However, I find myself pushing dinner back just to get that time in for the rice to cook slower. I appear to be addicted to umami rice, which isn’t exactly the greatest thing when you’re trying to lose weight.

Later, I tried it on Genjimai rice, choosing to use the umami setting instead of the brown, since the packaging of Genjimai boasts of it being a “quick cooking” rice, just like white rice.

Genji Mai Rice

Sure enough, Genjimai cooked up nice and fluffy on the Umami setting. I used the Brown water line in the pot to measure. Just like white umami rice, this has a delicious and clean rice aftertaste.

Close-up

Here’s a closer look at it. Very good stuff! Even my daughter couldn’t tell the difference between this and white rice when I gave her a bowl of chazuke.

I’ve been cooking with this new rice cooker for just about two months now and it’s been reliable and consistent in its cooking. The inner lid is easily removed for washing, though it took a couple of pots of rice before the “new car” smell came out of my rice, even though I washed all the pieces and wiped the cooker down. The pot itself is very rounded, which makes it very easy to pull out of the cooker. This wasn’t the case with my Panasonic, which required me to lift the pot straight up to get it out.

The kicker of course, is how well it keeps the rice after it’s done cooking. The answer to that is: it’s amazing. While my old cooker used to dry out rice within 12 hours, this cooker will keep my rice fluffy for around 24 hours before it begins to dry out. I’ve actually had rice that was cooked and kept for 72 hours before I considered it to be time to toss. Extended Warm, which is a lower temperature setting that needs to be set soon after it’s done cooking (press Keep Warm), helps with this vastly extended rice life. Extended Warm will automatically switch over to regular Keep Warm after 8 hours. If you wait too long after the rice is done cooking, the cooker will not let you select Extended Warm.

Chicken Wings Bento

This was my bento today, which had some leftover Genjimai rice that had been in my cooker for over 50 hours. I had to pluck some dried grains out, but for the most part, the rice was still okay to eat. This was completely unheard of in my last cooker.

The downside to keeping rice this long is that condensation builds up and actually makes a part of the rice in the pot soggy. Still, keeping rice for that long was only something I did for experimentation’s sake. I don’t normally keep rice in the cooker that long.

I tried one of the soup recipes in the instruction manual, which used the Slow Cook mode of the cooker. I have to say that while it was cool to be cooking soup in my rice cooker, I didn’t really like the fact that I couldn’t cook rice if I wanted to. The 5.5 pot didn’t hold all that much soup, maybe enough for 2-3 servings, and the batch of rice afterward had a beef broth taste to it, even though I’d washed all the parts. It’s a typical complaint of rice cookers that you cook other food with though, so I don’t think it’s a big deal.

The Zojirushi Umami Rice Cooker will retail for $273 USD and should be available for purchase online soon. UPDATE: The Umami cooker is now for sale on Amazon for $234. The basic review so far:

Pros:

  • Produces very delicious rice on a consistent basis provided you use the correct amount of water and the Umami setting.
  • With Extended Warm, keeps rice moist and fluffy for a much longer period of time without drying up.
  • Timer works wonderfully. I set it once to be done at 5 PM and rice was ready right when I got home.
  • The musical tones are very pleasant and cute.
  • Easy to clean outside and inside.

Cons:

  • Rice paddle not the greatest.
  • No retractable cord. Cord is thick and unwieldy.
  • Lid does not snap shut very easily.
  • Retains non-rice flavors even after washing.
  • 5.5 cup cooker doesn’t hold very much soup.

For Part 2, I intend to cook some GABA brown rice as well as some Mixed rice, using a recipe from Bento Boxes: Japanese Meals on the Go.

Disclosure: The rice cooker used in this review was provided to me free of charge by Zojirushi. I was not paid to write this review.

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Related posts:

  • So what does this do to make umami rice taste so good? Your posts are so good, so funny.. it’s the main meal to everyone else’s side dish..

  • olin

    Is the pot made of aluminum? Am looking for a non-aluminum option. Thanks! Great review.

  • Catherine Cua

    I own the Zojirushi NS-ZCC18 10 cup Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker and Warmer which I beleive is the same but without the Umami setting. I bought it for myself as a christmas gift, my husband being Chinese and eating rice at every meal, the timer on the cooker is AMAZING. I love how it takes the guessing game out of meal preparation. You set the timer to what time you want to eat as oppose to what time you want the rice cooker to start.

    At first my husband didn’t like the fact that I spent so much on the cooker. He also hated how long it takes to cook the rice (our previous rice cooker, a Cuisenart, use to take half as long… but the taste simply convinced him!!! (and his whole family who are dedicated to the Tiger brand)

    After reading your review, I now wished I could get the Umami setting…. or at least a taste of it 😉

  • Moontaj

    Wow I feel so lame now.

    I’m proud to eat rice 4-5x a week as half of our dinner plan, but I didn’t realize that there were so many different types and flavours of rice out there.

    To us rice is rice, be it white, brown, or flavoured and it all has the same consistency. We also don’t keep it out overnight, we make enough for the meal and after that’s done if there’s any leftover it goes in a container in the fridge to be eaten no more than 3 days later.

    Thanks for the eye-opening post Pikko. 😀

  • My Zojirushi is one of the handful of kitchen tools that I could not live without. It just cooks rice perfectly, and I don’t remember how we got along without a timer function (we had one of those hot-plate pop up rice cookers before). Now I want one with an umami setting! 😛

  • Definitely the aftertaste. It’s hard to describe, but it really is “savory” and delicious.

  • I’ll check and get back to you on that!

  • I wish they’d put it up for sale already! lol

  • What grain length do you normally eat?

  • I need to remember to use it more, haha! I really was amazed. Plus, it gets that soaking that you’re supposed to always do, but I never, ever have time for.

  • Interesting. I only have a cheap Matsui rice cooker with two settings: Cook and Warm. It does make ok rice though and it keeps my stove free for other cooking. I must say though that I’m very tempted. How many people will the 5.5 cup serve? I usually cook around a cup of rice per person – and a little extra if I know I will need something for bento AND for feeding our pet rats( they LOVE cooked rice!) so would this size be ok for a family of 4? And does it cook like 1 cup of rice if you only need that? That’s the main problem with the rice cooker I have now. Anything less than around 3 cups will go wrong… And I’d love a rice cooker that would let me cook just ONE cup of rice it I only need it for bento and not for dinner.

  • Honestly, I’ve only ever cooked more than 3 cups a handful of times. Whenever I’m feeding my family of four, I cook two cups of rice (which turns into four?). If we have my in-laws over, I cook three. So, 5.5 will more than adequately cook for a family of four. I’ve only done that when I was doing my cooking demos.

    I’ve cooked one cup of rice in this cooker (on quick cook) before and it turned out fine. My Panasonic would singe the bottom of the rice so that I could only scrape off the top layer of rice because the rest was a hard disk of rice and that drove me CRAZY.

  • Michelle

    I’m afraid that the biggest ‘Con’ of what does sound like a great rice cooker, is the price. I could not justify that amount, but then I don’t eat rice every day, either.

  • Very true, though for me, we eat rice like 5-7 days a week. If I had to buy one myself, I’d go for this before a KitchenAid mixer, mostly because I’d only use that 2-3 times a month.

  • I’m curious about this too. It looks like one of those thick heavy ones my friend has that I really like… It makes it feel much higher quality.

  • The pot is made out of aluminum.

  • Jaclyn

    If the inner bowl is stainless steel, I am VERY interested in this rice cooker. Do you have any idea when it will become available for sale? I can live with the cons you have listed, but would kill to have the umami setting. I was about to buy a cooker, but would much rather wait for this one.

  • Jaclyn

    I just went to the Zojirushi site and, while it does not say what the inner bowl is, the picture indicates that it’s a nonstick finish. This is definitely something I don’t want. 🙁 That is terribly dissapointed. I suppose I will keep up my search. Thanks for such a fantastic blog!!

  • jd

    Thank you so much for reviewing a rice cooker! (It’s the first review of any rice cooker I’ve ever seen.)

    I see so many decent rice cookers – well not so many actually, on Amazon. All Japanese, of course. No one around here carries anything but stupid, junk models (in my opinion) that do a terrible job of cooking and wasting rice (NOT an opinion!). I’m reluctant to buy one because I don’t know enough about good ones and I want to be sure I get the best and most reliable model I can.

  • Rayburgs

    Great article especially how it is written. Can’t wait to read the other installments.

    Three questions; Is there a significant difference in quality/performance between 5 cup and 10 cup models, are the 5 cup rice cookers better?

    Does Zojirushi plan to address the concern people have which associates aluminum with Alzheimer’s disease? I think their IH pots require steel or iron containers to work, so why not make all containers steel. OR is the steel container able to work in the Umami rice cooker?

  • Moontaj

    Well it’s not long grain rice, I guess it’s ‘normal’ white rice. *is embarrassed by lack of rice knowledge. I also do yellow rice and some of the pre-mixed flavour rices.

  • Justine L

    I feel your pain about dried out rice! I’m a college student, so I have this tiny little Black & Decker rice cooker, which considering it was only $15, it’s not too bad. But it does dry out if I forget to put the lid back on within twenty minutes of uncovering it. I end up sprinkling some water on the rice, then cover it with a really damp paper towel, then microwave it. The dampness helps resteam the rice and its a lot better. It works for refrigerated rice too! Its not as good as fresh, but for me, its a quick fix when I’m pressed for time and want rice. Lol.

  • I’ve never knew you could leave rice overnight. Yipee! So, for example, could I make my daughter’s onigiri the night before (without nori) and leave it in the rice cooker (on top of the rest of the rice) and pop it into her obento the next morning (after adding nori). Do I have to use the warmer overnight?

  • I can’t remember what rice cooker brand my mother in law has, I think she has a Zojirushi too. My grandmother swears by this brand of rice cooker.

  • Hi Rayburgs, I’ll make sure that the Zojirushi rep hears of your comment.

    As for the difference between the 5 and 10 cup, I unfortunately can’t answer that because I have never tried the 10 cup cooker.

  • Haha, don’t worry, I’m not much of an outside-my-comfort-zone rice eater either!

  • I do the damp paper towel thing too! I also do that when I’m making spam musubi, so that the rice doesn’t dry out while I work! 🙂

  • Yeah ok, you might just be a total genius!! I’ve never thought of doing that, but I will test it out for part 2. Thanks for thinking of it!!

  • RCFoodie

    Really!?? I didn’t know either you could use the warmer function for so long for rice– I’ve left mine, but I guess yes, it did dry out a bit– I have a Sanyo Gaba rice cooker. Oh– maybe Pikko, your next review for the Gaba rice– check on how long you can keep warm? I always think that my brown rice gets *stinky* smelling, no?

    And funny you did this review, because in yesterday’s Marukai paper, (for you California people) this model is on sale. I was actually wondering about it, paying that much for this cooker. I’m a noodle girl myself. Heh heh! But I love this post- very interesting! I too, just learned about age of rice– who knew that you had to adjust water for how old it is? My Nihonjin friend told me to get the “new crop” stuff– I splurged and did get that $20.00+ something rice– and yup, there is a bit of texture difference. Who knew….

  • Rayburgs

    Have just read about 5th flavor and Umami and am excited about tasting it
    I want to purchase the Umami rice cooker as I also like the feature of the GABA brown rice setting and re-heat. I would prefer a retractable cord instead of a detachable power cord but that is minimal.
    I have another brand rice cooker Pressure 5 cup, but does not cook GABA, therefore I have to soak first … I want to get a 10 cup that has GABA setting … preferably a Umami
    I eat allot of rice; white, brown, red, forbidden, wild sometimes mixed … many times only seasoned rice and veg alone.
    Your Bento looks pretty, almost like art – too pretty to eat LOL
    I am a bit apprehensive about purchasing Zojirushi regarding the pot material. Will delay purchasing another rice cooker for a while until I hear about aluminum pot Zojirushi put in Umami rice cooker and if another pot can be purchased with the Umami cooker online.
    Maybe if they plan to do an IH Umami Rice Cooker, maybe I will wait longer

  • I have no idea what GABA means, so I’ll have to go look that up!

    I tried some Kagayaki rice and it really does taste different. So weird…

  • I tried mixed rice for the first time at a friends. They put quinoa and amaranth in it. Maybe once my amaranth grows I’ll have some to mix in!

  • RCFoodie

    I think GABA function on these cookers is something like it cooks it at slower longer heat and the GABA is some nutrient or something that is inside the rice kernel. When it’s cooked a specific type of way, (i’m thinking via these cookers), out comes this GABA “nutrient”. Supposed to be more nutritious. Yes, I bought into it~ and I can’t remember what it’s all about! Ha ha… We don’t eat rice that much, but maybe if we did, i’d notice it. Needless to say, I cooked 1/2, 1/2 rice yesterday on my brown rice setting, since you have me now craving sticky rice. 🙂

  • That’s what my daughter says we will be eating soon, lol. I bought this rice cooker for myself after reading your review. Thanks for posting such a thorough and well organized review. I can’t wait to try it! 🙂

  • Tony

    It’s on Sale at Uwajimaya’s in Seattle for $189 / 5.5 cup; $199 / 10cup.
    4/13 – 4/26. There’s also a store in Beaverton, Portland. Sale at all locations.

  • Harrison

    @rayburgs.
    The pot is coated on all sides with nonstick coating so there is NO contact with aluminum. Although I am careful with meatl utensils in my nonstick cookkware, oother family members and guest arent. I can tell you the coating is VERY durable in my ancient zoji.

    Another issue is the toxicity of vaprorized nonstick coatings. Rice cooking never approaches the temp that would vaporize the cooking so no problem.

    I can’t answer about the IH working in the umami, don’t own either YET. My old zoji has worked perfectly for years and is so reliable that I’m probably not going to be able to justify buying a new one for a while.

    I personally own a 5.5 size and it is enough for my family. My brother has a 10 cupper. When fresh, there is little to no difference between rice made in a 5.5 versus a 10 cup machine. BUT Even with the keep warm feature, we prefer FRESH rice to day old rice. Slightly better texture, and we love the aroma of rice when it is cooking so we prefer smaller portions more often than one large pot that sits for a long time (although it is still good enough that I prefer 1 day old in a zoji than 4 hours old in a crummy pot.

  • Rayburgs

    Thank you for the input Harrison, all reports I have had of the Zojirushi rice cooker have been good. My only concern was directed towards the aluminum pan with the non-stick coating, as I have seen coatings (other brands) come away to reveal the aluminum pan on the outside (the part which touches the element directly).

    I also like fresh rice over leftover, is also better for portion control. I was thinking of the convenience of the larger Zojirushi only for making soup. Where I am from, our soup could be considered hearty and servings (with the liquid) take up more space when being cooked. The volume of a 5.5 cup is not convenient as the main meal for a family of 4-5.

  • I was very pleased to discover this web site. I need to to thank you for ones time for this wonderful read!! I definitely really liked every bit of it and i also have you book-marked to see new information on your blog.

  • Pingback: Considering ZOJIRUSHI Rice Cooker | Annielicious Food()

  • Daniel

    Actually, umami is a quite distinct, well-defined thing. It’s the taste of glutamates, mostly known through the ubiquitious and much-slandered member of the family, MSG. (Yea, monosodium glutamate, the white powder used in Chinese fast food and TV dinners, in order to make their less-than-acceptable ingredients more palatable.)
    Anyway, our mouth has a specific sensor for glutamates, which are, in the world, usually found in seafood and meat. We find it tasty because our body needs the proteins and amino acids found in such foods.
    I don’t know if the “umami” setting on rice cookers actually increases the actual “umami” of the rice, or just plain makes it “umai” (tasty).