As with many innovations on a traditional method, there are as many people who would not consider switching from traditional steamers to an electric rice cooker as there are people who swear by the perfection that they claim can only be accomplished with the electric appliance. Both offer a more authentic and dedicated way of preparing rice as well as other foods. The differences between them are subtle but definite in terms of efficiency and convenience.
Stove top steamers come in three basic styles: lidded double pot, Thai basket and stackable bamboo baskets. The most popular of these is probably the stackable steamer baskets because they offer the ability to cook more than one item at a time in almost the same pot. The double pot is probably more common in America for people who like to steam on the stove top, though.
The Thai basket really has no way to seal the steam in the cooking process which would make it the least efficient steamer. However, it is said to be the best method for producing sticky rice.
Electric rice cookers, like stove top steamers, can be used for rice and steaming other foods. The variation in features offered can make them a more practical addition to the kitchen. It is important to note that all rice cookers are not equipped to be used for steaming other foods. The designation of “rice cooker/steamer” will be used for appliances designed to do both.
The reason many people prefer to prepare rice in an electric rice cooker is the convenience of not having to monitor the rice while it is cooking. Most rice cookers can be programmed in advance and the rice can cook and then be kept warm without any human interaction for hours. Because they are used on the stove, other steamers do not afford this luxury.
The quality of the cooked rice is essentially the same whether the stove top steamer or electric rice cooker is used. Though many people claim that the amount of control given in the stove top method is essential, others maintain that the electric appliance does a more accurate job.
Since many electric rice cookers employ fuzzy logic, the variables that can occur during the rice cooking are dealt with by the appliance as well as by a human cook. Die-hard purists of course see this as another trait that makes the rice preparation less authentic.
The use of the steaming process for cooking is renowned for sealing in the most nutrients in cooked food and generally a healthier process than other methods. Not all foods are recommended for steaming. Poultry and fish can be cooked well in a steamer but the temperatures do not reach the heat required for safe beef and pork preparation.