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.
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 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—
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.
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.
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.
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 minutesto 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.