The right kitchen appliances can make it easier to eat light, healthy meals. Rice cookers and steamers are becoming a more popular choice in the American kitchen as Asian foods and healthy cooking gain popularity. Some rice cookers offer a steamer tray, and some steamers can cook rice fairly effectively. Others can manage only one of these two functions. What should you know when shopping for these appliances to make the right choice for your kitchen?
What Are Steamers?
Food steamers have a simple primary function. They steam foods, preserving many of the nutrients and offering an easy low-fat cooking method. Some food steamers may offer a bowl attachment for rice cooking; however, steaming fish and vegetables is their primary function. Steamers with multiple tiers are helpful to allow you to cook several different foods and to cook more food in a single steamer.
What Are Rice Cookers?
Rice cookers can provide you with perfectly cooked rice every time. The convenience of this if you eat rice regularly cannot be underestimated. A rice cooker prepares rice by boiling water placed inside the machine, which heats up and becomes absorbed by the rice. Unlike a traditional stovetop, which may cause water to boil over, rice cookers are powered by electricity and turns off automatically once the rice has been cooked to the proper temperature and consistency.
There are three basic types of rice cookers. A basic rice cooker typically includes only an off and on switch, and a slightly more advanced rice cooker will have a better quality nonstick finish to make clean-up easier and may have a steamer tray. Finally, a fuzzy logic rice cooker can keep your rice warm and ready to eat for hours. Generally, a rice cooker will finish rice in somewhere around 30 minutes, although exact cook times will vary depending on the machine.
How Does Each Function?
Choose between a rice cooker and a steamer based upon the primary function in your kitchen. If rice is your priority, choose a rice cooker with a steamer tray. If you expect to make rice only occasionally, you should opt for an electric steamer. You may even find it helpful to own both a rice cooker and a steamer if you frequently rely on simple meals of steamed vegetables, fish and rice.
Common Features of Each
There are several features you should look for when shopping for an electric food steamer or rice cooker. While these are not essential, they can make life easier and make food preparation and clean-up more convenient. You may find that a "keep warm" setting is helpful. This can allow you to have fresh rice ready when you want it and will also keep vegetables warm. If your family eats at different times, this can allow a fresh meal for everyone. You should also look for an easily washed nonstick surface.
Easy Meal Ideas
Freshly cooked rice can be used as the basis of stir fries, added to soups or served with stews or beans. You can also simply steam vegetables and shrimp or fish in the steamer trays and serve these over rice with a simple sauce or fresh herbs. You can add vegetables and seafood to the steamer tray in your rice cooker or your electric food steamer straight from the freezer and have them ready to eat in 10 to 20 minutes.
With a master's degree in art history from the University of Missouri-Columbia, Michelle Powell-Smith has been writing professionally for more than a decade. An avid knitter and mother of four, she has written extensively on a wide variety of subjects, including education, test preparation, parenting, crafts and fashion.