For most Kama’aina (residents) who grew up since childhood in Hawaii, rice is no question THE starch staple. Not pasta or noodles, nor potatoes, bread or otherwise. It’s all about RICE. Which if you rely on it daily, wouldn’t you want the best cooking tool for the job?
That said, my “entry level” Aroma® Rice Cooker finally kicked the bucket, putting me back on the market for a replacement that would take my rice cooking and eating experience to a whole new level.
After scouring review upon owner review on Amazon on various made in Japan models that are said to be the best, including the Tiger® brand, I decided to go with the Zojirushi® NP-HBC10 5.5 Cup Induction Heat Rice Cooker.
Now after just over a week’s use making several pots, I’m confident saying this is the best investment I’ve made in my kitchen besides completely renovating it. And investment it is, as the Zojirushi NP-HBC10 retails in stores locally over $300. The cheapest you can get it new online is on Amazon, where it currently sells for $259, including free shipping to Hawaii.
I was fortunate to come across a new, open box unit locally on Craigslist for $200. Which is still a premium for any countertop appliance, let alone a rice cooker, where you can get one of similar size that performs its job “adequately” for around $50 to just over $100. Some cheaper than $50 if you settle for some unknown brand.
Taking Induction Heat a step further, Zojirushi’s top of the line models are also pressure cookers, which they claim “Rice cooks sweeter. Pressure cooking helps turn beta starch into alpha starch for softer and easier to digest rice.” Those models retail for around $400 to $600.
Induction Heat is the latest in kitchen cooktop technology, having already made its way to rice cookers, where HowStuffWorks.com explains the gist of it:
Induction Heating and Rice Cookers
Some rice cookers take precision a step further with the help of a technology called induction heating. While other rice cookers apply heat directly from an electrical plate underneath the inner cooking pan, induction-heating rice cookers get their heat from an alternating electric current from the wall outlet.
Induction heating, used for many applications beyond rice cookers, is achieved when this current passes through metal coils, typically made of copper. The movement of the current through these coils creates a magnetic field. It is into this magnetic field that the rice cooker’s pan is inserted. The magnetic field produces an electrical current inside the cooking pan, and this generates heat. Heat can also be produced from this process if the rice cooker’s pan is made out of a magnetic material. This is due to a phenomenon called hysteresis, in which magnetic materials show a resistance to any fast-paced changes of their magnetic level. This resistance creates friction, which contributes to the cooking heat.
Induction heating improves rice cookers in three main ways:
- The temperature-sensing methods can be more accurate, allowing for fine-tuned adjustments in temperature.
- The heat distribution area can encompass the inner cooking pan, not just radiate upwards from below, to produce more evenly cooked food.
- The level of heat being created in the cooking pan can be changed in an instant by strengthening or weakening the magnetic field that is generating it.
These elements create the biggest bonus of the induction heating rice cooker. In the event of a human measuring error, an induction heating rice cooker can make minute adjustments to both the time and the temperature of the selected program because of its sensitivity to temperature, and its precise ability to control it.
And what does that all mean? With an induction heat rice cooker such as this top-of-the-line Zoji’, it means no more crusty brown rice at the bottom of the pot, along with a an extended warm function that, just from my brief experience, has kept rice warm, ready-to-eat, fluffy and fresh-tasting over 24 hours from the time it was cooked. That alone has me totally jazzed!
You don’t know how much rice I’ve thrown away because my old cooker totally SUCKED in keep warm mode, totally burning the rice. So I had no choice but to either refrigerate the rice, which I can’t stand, or leave it at room temp’, which only lasted within the same day. Next day, no good already.
Yet keeping rice warm and in top condition is only half its virtue. The other half is how EXCELLENT it cooks rice! While I haven’t tried that yet, I’m confident with some lessons in how to form the rice, I can kick out Nigiri Sushi worthy of any high end Japanese restaurant. Or musubi as great as that from Iyasume. Or brown rice that’s just as appetizing to eat as white rice.
Taking a closer look now where all the business happens, the cooking pot in this induction heat model hardly looks different than a conventional rice cooker.
However, notice there’s a raised “nib” in the center and a stepped perimeter of the cooking base. This design helps the induction field of the magnetically-charged pot radiate heat more evenly, including the walls from bottom to top. Unlike a conventional rice cooker or pot on a stove where all the heat is generated from the bottom on the element it sits on, with induction heat, the POT is the heating element, not the induction element it sits on. Therefore you can take the pot out, and the induction element will be practically cool to touch. It’s the pot that you won’t be able handle with bare hands.
The photo of the pot’s cooking well above reveals there isn’t a flat heating element base with a spring thermostat in the center like most conventional cookers. That entire metal bowl shaped base is the induction plate that the magnetic rice pot makes contact with. The metal button at the eleven o’clock is a sensor switch. The three three gray tabs are rubber spacers that keep the cooking pot centered and snug against the induction base.
The photo above is my old Aroma conventional rice cooker where you see the usual heating element base and spring thermostat in the center.
Back to the induction cooker, the underside of the pot that make contact with the induction base surprisingly is also finished in the non-stick coating. This, unlike the Tiger induction heat model, which has a bare stainless steel finish.
The side profile of the induction heat rice cooking pot reveals its spherical shape, which also improves even heat distribution, while as a bonus, making it easier to clean, mix and scoop every last grain of rice out. Love that!
The easy-to-read water measurement guide scribed into the wall of the pot includes levels for the most common types of rice users will cook in it, including white, brown and sweet on one side, and white, sushi and porridge on the other side wall. Porridge, being namely steel cut oats, which lots of Amazon users rave about this cooker being good at. I’ll have to try that.
While it may look like a full U.S. cup (8 fluid ounces), like most Japanese rice cookers, Zojirushi uses what’s called a “Go Cup”, which measures 6.1 oz., or 3/4 cup. So two “Go Cups” of rice are equivalent to 1½ U.S. cups. That said, the water measuring marks inscribed in the pot are according to the “Go Cup” standard.
So simply add however much rice you want to cook (up 5.5 cups for this model), rinse the rice thoroughly, then fill the water to the measurement mark according to how many “Go Cups” of rice is in there, and what type of rice is in it.
Note, the sushi rice setting uses slightly less water for the same white rice you’re using (given you’re using a premium quality short grain rice), while also having a slightly shorter cooking time. This, in order to have a finished white rice that’s slightly firmer, as you’ll still need to transfer the cooked rice into a Hangiri wooden bowl and fan in Sushi Su, which is rice vinegar, sugar and salt seasoning that helps flavor and preserve the sushi rice.
The stainless steel lid with integrated rubberized gasket is removable for easy cleaning, which Zojirushi recommends doing so after cooking each pot.
Also note there’s not too many nooks and crannies where rice can get stuck and difficult to clean. For the most part, overall, this model is built to be easy to clean and maintain.
Continuing with maintenance, the NP-HBC10 includes a nifty removable steam vent apparatus incorporated on the lid that captures the water from the escaping steam as the rice cooks. You simply pop it off and open up the gasket-sealed container to empty and clean it out.
There’s a handy-dandy rice paddle holder that clips to either side of the unit.
As for the materials of the housing, the top of the lid and side band of the main unit is made of stamped brushed stainless steel with a clear coat finish. Which I must note especially, the side of the main unit is quite thin, so be careful not to ding it against other cookware, otherwise it could look pretty beat-up. Probably won’t affect its performance, but still.
All the other light gray parts are made of what feels like a durable plastic that seems to have enough give that it won’t crack easily, however I wouldn’t recommend dropping it to find out.
The bottom side has vents in front and back for a cooling fan that operates during the cooking and steaming cycle. The fan’s noise level is pretty quiet, being perhaps just a tad louder than the average desktop computer tower cooling fan.
The only thing I’m disappointed by — especially for the price point — is that the NP-HBC10 doesn’t include the handy spring-loaded retractable power cord that most Zojirushi made in Japan models have. On top of that, you can’t detach the power cord from the unit, so if you’re toting it around, like say to a pot luck, the dangling cord could be cumbersome. I mean, you know, it’s the little things like that which makes life rough, right? lol
Up front on top where the brains are, we have the control panel, so you can tell the intelligent fuzzy logic CPU what you want to cook and when you want it done by.
It also communicates via satellite with rice farmers in Japan and California for the latest scoops on premium rice crop harvests. Nah, just kidding. lol Not kidding, I’m sure we’ll see rice cookers that will soon include built-in wifi, accompanied with apps where you can control your rice cooker from your phone or tablet. That’d be sweet.
Before getting into the functions, it must also be noted the face of the control panel is covered with a soft vinyl membrane to waterproof the physical (non-capacitive) buttons. Time will tell how long this soft membrane lasts before it starts cracking, of which I don’t care, as long as the unit still works.
As you see, you can choose white rice cooked either regular, softer, harder or quick cooking. Quick cooking will cut the time down to about 20 minutes. Otherwise, white rice takes about 50 minutes from start to finish in the cooker.
Other types of rice include mixed, sushi, sweet, brown or GABA brown rice, as well as porridge, such as steel cut oats. GABA brown rice is germinated brown rice that includes the nutrient gamma-aminobutyric acid; a type of amino acid said to lower blood pressure and stress. I best be makin’ some GABA… I need it!
The clock is in military time, so you have to get used that when programming the timer, which works very well. You can set it in the morning to have the rice finished cooking exactly when you want, such as after work and/or school when everyone’s ready for dinner.
Also notice there’s a keep warm and extended keep warm button and indicator lights. It will go into keep warm by default after cooking, which gives a 12 hour elapsed time on the display. During this mode, you can press extended keep warm, which give you a 24 hour elapsed time. So every hour shown on the display is how long it’s so far been kept on warm. No matter how good a rice cooker, rice is rice, and over time its quality will degrade when on warm. Still, this model is excellent at maximizing its ability to keep rice warm with minimal degradation in quality and flavor.
The Zojirushi owner’s manual is well written, concise and easy to understand, including explaining the differences in rice types and which setting is best for each one. And if you get something wrong such as type or water level, chances are the fuzzy logic computer will make adjustments to correct the heat and time so that it turns out good, no matter what.
It’d be safe to say most Hawaii folks eat the economical white medium grain “extra fancy” rice such as Hinode, so the setting is simple: on the control panel, select White Rice at “regular” doneness, with the water level in the pot filled to the cup count under White Rice.
Press start, then enjoy the electronic musical chime “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. After cooking and towards the end of the steaming mode, it goes into a 10 minute countdown. Once that’s done, the rice is done and it plays “Amaryllis” as the musical chime to tell you the rice is pau (finished). How fun!
I’ve gone as far as making a video clip of the musical chime start and finish cooking sequence of the Zojirushi NP-HBC10. Check it out (make sure you can hear the audio)…
The part in the video after I press start where I move the camera to the side and under is so you can hear the cooling fan operate. It’s louder in the video than it actually is in person, only because my camera’s sensitive mic is right there in the machine’s grill.
Some reviewers on Amazon mistakenly say the induction heat rice cookers are faster than a conventional rice cooker, but that’s not true. All stages of the cooking process considered, I’d say they’re about the same.
My old Aroma was actually faster, taking a little over a half hour to cook two cups of rice before it went into ‘warm’ mode. The Zoji’ Induction Heat cooker takes about 50 minutes to cook two cups of white rice. Yet what also what must be taken into account is that the Zojirushi’s cooking time INCLUDES the steaming segment of the cooking process, which I wouldn’t quite say the conventional Aroma’s cooking time entirely includes. I’d usually let it sit at least 10 minutes or longer to let the rice fully steam before opening the lid with the old Aroma cooker.
With the Induction Zoji’, once it goes into ‘Keep Warm’ mode (when the done cooking “Amaryllis” song chimes), you can go right ahead and open the lid to fluff the rice up; an important step in making rice, no matter what cooker you have.
Of course a great rice cooker can only be as good as the rice you cook in it, right? Or is that really the case? A bit more on that later.
Above I have uncooked grains of Boton® brand U.S. No. 1 Extra Fancy Calrose Brown Rice to the left, Tamanishiki® Super Premium Short Grain Rice in the center, and Hinode® U.S. No. 1 California Extra Fancy Calrose Medium Grain Rice (da’ kine in da’ yellow bag) on the right of that plate.
With the superior super premium grade Taminishiki rice in the center ($19.99/15 lb. bag on sale; regular $27.99), you can clearly see the uniformity of the carefully polished grains. This rice uses a combination of Koshihikari and Yume Gokochi that are said to have “great flavor and texture” that no other rice can imitate”. This is the same rice Iyasume Musubi uses for their AMAZING Omusubi, so I know I’ve got some good stuff.
Even though the instructions on the bag says washing isn’t necessary, I still did so with the Super Premium grade Tamanashiki rice on this first run in the IH Zoji’, only because it’s a habit. Next time I’ll try a pot without washing the rice.
Ah yes, nice and clear water, just how it should be, filled exactly to the white rice 3-cup water level.
What’s neat is the Zoji’ remembers your settings from the previous cooking session. So if you cooked GABA brown rice the last time, it will remain on that setting. In my case, it’s the same white rice setting on regular doneness as I did previously with the Hinode rice.
Notice the display says 0 hours, which means it hasn’t elapsed an hour yet of time on ‘keep warm’ mode, which it automatically goes into.
After the “Amaryllis” finished cooking music chimes, upon fluffing the rice with the paddle, we have perfectly incredible, EXQUISITE rice!
I am not kidding when I tell you that once you taste this rice, not just a bite or two will do; you will want to eat the entire pot, as is, shoyu or anything else not required. It’s THAT tasty, straight up. This my friends is what you call Japanese restaurant quality rice. Of which I’m sure any demanding sushi chef would be happy to serve. Best of all, I can enjoy this every day now, right in the comfort of my own home!
The grains have just the right amount of moisture and stickiness, with an almost silky mouth feel.
While I didn’t prepare this as Sushi rice, I just as well could have made some Nigiri, as it just the right texture for shaping it in my hand with a few tight squeezes. Just add wasabi and raw Ahi, and bam.
Interestingly, remember earlier when I said the cooker can only be as good as the rice it’s cooking? Well, I must say, the Zoji’ NP-HBC10 does such a good job with the “economy” Hinode rice, I can honestly say, unless you’re trying to impress an the most demanding rice connoisseur, the Hinode rice that comes out of this cooker tastes and feels practically as great as the Super Premium Tamanishiki, at more than half the price less.
Still, if you’re making Sushi or Omusubi, go with the Tamanishiki for sure.
In honor of Iyasume Musubi, I did make an Ume Musubi with this incredible pot of Tamanishiki rice, where notice I take the “meat” off the salty, tangy ume and poke in the center. That’s how ya’ do it, baby!
And? The Tamanishiki not only tastes great when made into an omusubi, but also has great “stick”, not falling apart at all. Of course I lightly salted my hand as I shaped it, which you should always do when making musubi. While I thought I wasn’t going to finish it, this induction cooked Tamanishiki Rice Ume Musubi was so oishii, I couldn’t resist whacking the whole thing! Look out Musubi-Ya Iyasume, Musubi-Ya Pomai is a comin’ to kick your butt! lol
Not stopping there, I also served myself up a bowl of Kin No Tsubu Niowanatto & Tamanishiki Rice, with of course an Ume for added kick. And? Probably the best bowl of natto and rice I’ve ever had. Trust me, I made QUICK WORK of it. Not even 2 minutes, done. Sugoi oishiikata yo.
In a follow-up review, I’ll try cooking the Botan® Calrose Brown Rice, as well as make nigiri sushi rice with the Tamanishki on the sushi rice setting, going the whole 9 yards with the sushi-su and all that.
Summing it up, if you’re in the market for a new rice cooker, or just want better rice than what your cooker now is making, I highly consider investing in your rice-loving tummy and go for the top shelf Zojirushi NP-HBC10 Induction Heat Rice Cooker. This 5.5 model is perfect for a household of 2 to 4 people. Otherwise get the NP-HBC18 which is the 10 cup model.
Spending over $200 for a rice cooker may seem a hard pill to swallow, yet once you experience cooking with and tasting the rice this induction heat cooker puts out, suddenly its price seems an outright steal of a bargain.
It makes even “economy” Hinode rice taste like restaurant quality rice, and super premium grade rice taste worthy of a Japanese Iron Chef. In fact, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto is said to personally use Zojirushi rice cookers.
The induction heat technology results in rice that’s cooked evenly, with crusty rice burnt on the bottom of the pot a thing of the past. The intense, even heat also brings out more flavor from each rice grain, while the extended keep warm function means you have more time to enjoy each pot.
Best of all, It’s so easy to use, anyone can make excellent restaurant quality rice with this Zojirushi induction heat rice cooker. It truly is AMAZING!
What? Zojirushi NP-HBC10 5.5 Cup Induction Heat Rice Cooker
Where did you buy it and how much was it? Craigslist, new, open box, $200
Big Shaka to: Evenly cooked, very tasty, perfectly textured, SUPERIOR, RESTAURANT QUALITY COOKED RICE; no scorching on bottom; non-stick stainless steel cooking pot releases rice easily; intuitive electronic control panel; cooking timer so you’ll have fresh hot rice ready any time of day or night; built-in clock (military time) with back-up battery; easy to clean and maintain design; easy-open lid lock release button; compact footprint saves counter space; Made in Japan quality materials and construction; one of the best investments ever made for the kitchen; bragging rights that my rice taste better than anyone else within a city block who doesn’t have one of these.
No Shaka to: relatively high cost; built-in spring-loaded retractable power cord not included like other made in Japan Zojirushi models; power cord doesn’t detach from unit; I can’t program “For Whom the Bells Toll” by Metallica or “Rice Rice Baby” by Vanilla Rice into the CPU for the start and finish cooking chime.
The Tasty Island rating: 7 Ume Musubi