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Now You're Cooking!Panasonic Really Cookin’ with Automatic Rice Preparation

By Jim Bray

You have to take your hat off to Panasonic. Not only have they been traditionally at or near the leading edge of electronics technology, but they’ve also blazed trails into such seemingly silly-sounding product lines as automatic bread makers and massage chairs.

And now you see massage chairs and bread makers from a variety of manufacturers and at many price points.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find that Panasonic is also pushing the envelope when it comes to – cooking rice!

Panasonic’s automatic rice cookers are undoubtedly aimed at those who want a droid that can monitor the rice creation process, and even have the dish ready when you come home from a hard day at work. And judging by the success of bread makers, there may be a market here.

But does the little droid work?

I just spent a couple of weeks with one of these cookers, and it’s a pretty neat gadget that works as advertised, though of course I have a couple of typical whines.

Cooking rice the old fashioned way isn’t difficult, but it’s a pain in the butt. You have to pay attention when bringing it to a boil lest it spew all over your range and cause howls of outrage from whoever has the unhappy task of cleaning the surface – or howls of derision from onlookers. And of course you have to stick around until it boils.

Panasonic’s Electronic Rice Cooker uses fuzzy logic to create its magic, kind of the opposite to how politicians work (they use fuzzy logic to create havoc!). The cooker includes a timer so you can delay the arrival of your little kernels of joy, as well as offering different menu settings for versatility.

Alas, we’ve been pretty big on basmati rice for the past while and this rice cooker only did a reasonably adequate job with basmati. It was inferior to what we cook “by hand.” We were a tad disappointed in that.

With white rice, however, it was terrific!

My test unit, wearing the model designation SR-YB05P, cooks up to three cups of uncooked rice at a time, and using it is very easy. Basically, you dump in the rice and the water, set the machine, then wander off in search of more rewarding pastimes. I never tried more than one cup, since I wasn’t feeding a platoon, but have no reason to think it would work any less well if you cram it with kernels.

Panasonic says the cooker features a “lunchbox style,” though it looks more like a slow cooker to me, or the top of R2D2’s head. But what do I know? Whatever; it’s a handsome little critter that looked right at home in our kitchen.

What’s even more important is that its “cool touch body” and carrying handle means you can transport the cooked rice from the kitchen to the table without burning yourself. This is a nice touch, especially if, like me, you’re a hopeless klutz.

On the other hand, at $170 Canadian ($120US), it had better offer some pretty nice creature comforts!

Fortunately, it does offer quite a few features, such as a “keep warm” function that gives you up to four hours to eat the rice. It not only keeps the rice warm, but moist as well. I can’t do that with my iron pot on the range. Heck, my rice often turns out dry right off the bat!

That could be more of a statement on the operator, however.



The Panasonic also includes a carrying handle, measuring cup and even a plastic scoop. A quick cook function speeds up the process so your white rice is ready 13 minutes more quickly than “the normal process,” though I might quibble over that. It’s fast, but not that much faster than using our usual cast iron pot. The advantage is convenience.

Speaking of which, the timer can be set to deliver the rice to you at your predetermined munching time, as long as you remember to set the clock. You can delay the rice by up to 13 hours, in 30 minute increments. There’s also a reheat function.
The unit’s innards feature a non-stick coating with a dimpled bottom that’s not only cute as a baby’s rump (well…), but which supposedly helps set up a convection current to ensure the rice is cooked evenly. No quibbles here. Panasonic says you can cook white, mixed, glutinous rice and porridge, which may explain its performance, or lack of, with basmati.
In my limited time with the machine I didn’t have a chance to try porridge, nor do I have a clue what glutinous rice is (is it rice that goes straight to the butt?) but, as I mentioned, it was pretty well perfect with white rice.
As well as this machine works, the bottom line for me is that you can cook a lot of rice using a pot on your range for the price of this unit. On the other hand, we don’t eat a lot of rice, so to each his own.

I guess it’s analogous to Panasonic’s Bread Bakeries when they first hit the market. They sold for about $500 when we bought ours in the late 1980’s and I absolutely loved it; it spurred us into making a lot of bread while it was still novel. We still have that first generation bread bakery, but for the most part it’s now gathering dust in our pantry. And they’ve come down a lot in price since then, as well as having increased in speed and flexibility - and just about everyone and his dog makes them now.

I imagine the same will happen with these rice cookers.

In the meantime, if your lifestyle can justify such a device, this Panasonic works as claimed. As long as you don’t want basmati rice and don’t mind dropping over a hundred bucks on it.

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January 31, 2006