Thermostats. Latent heat. Culture. And how science gets steamy with culture in rice cookers.
Rice cookers are made up of five basic elements: an outer container, an inner cooking vessel, a heating layer, a thermal sensor (thermostat), and a lid.Uncooked rice grains are placed in the inner cooking vessel. The lid is closed and the heating element is switched on. The water begins to boil. It evaporates into steam. The steam is kept in by the lid and is also absorbed by the rice grains.
During this time, the temperature stays constant at the boiling point of 100ºC/212ºF. This is because of latent heat: Heat energy is absorbed to change the water from its liquid state into its gaseous state (steam). As long as there is water present, the temperature will not rise.
Once all the water is absorbed by the rice, the temperature rises beyond 100ºC/212ºF. The thermostat detects this increase and turns the heating layer off automatically. In newer rice cookers, it can also lower the heating to a level that is just enough to keep the rice warm. The rice is thus not overcooked or burnt.
The rice cooker was the “first appliance designed specifically for an Asian kitchen.” That is perhaps not surprising as rice is a staple of many cultures, especially in Asia.
What is remarkable is that, according to Consider the Fork, rice cookers were an ideal marriage of culture and technology. Unlike some cooking inventions such as the microwave, science and technology did not change the way these cultures prepared or ate rice. Before the rice cooker, rice was cooked in a pot over a fire, and someone had to stand watch lest the rice burned (see below). With the invention of the rice cooker, the science of steamy simply made it all easier.
How often do you and your family cook rice? Tell me!
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