Rice goes digital cooked the fuzzy logic way / Side-by-side tests show appliance makes a difference

12 Nov.,2022


Digital Rice Cooker

You may not be a glamour-enamored, hi-tech, program-passionate Generation Xer, but you still might find yourself putting their rice cooker of choice on your holiday wish list. No, not the boring, everyday, counter- clunking cooker that you see in every East and Southeast Asian home, but a futuristic, digital, sexy, neuro fuzzy logic rice cooker. It's a state-of-the- art appliance that a Gen-Xer can program to her heart's content, and then leave it to cook rice so perfect it brings tears of gladness to her mother's and grandmother's eyes -- all the better if you hide the price tag.

But wait. Neuro fuzzy? Logic? What's that have to do with plain old rice? Where's the logic, when the prices range from $100 to the high $200s, and brand new older-style (non-fuzzy) rice cookers are selling for around $55 for a 10-cupper.

So why pay two to three times more? In two words: delicious and programmable.

Listen to the converts. "The fuzzy logic is my alpha rice cooker," says Julie Kaufman, co-author of "The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook" (The Harvard Common Press, 2002). "I love the programming feature. I often put the rice in early and program it the night before." Her children scoop hot rice into their thermal carafes to take for school lunch, she adds, and she herself is used to having perfect rice ready for dinner after she picks them up from school.

Listen also to Chris Chen, an immigrant from Taiwan. "The rice is more delicious," he says. Besides, the fuzzy logic cooker has smarts. "Traditional rice cookers don't use brains. The fuzzy logic has a PC board; it knows when to use full power; it tries to make the rice delicious. The fuzzy logic can cook different varieties of rice: sushi rice, porridge, different varieties of rice from Thailand. The chip will know when full power is needed throughout the whole process," says Chen.

That's a lot brainier than the older models, called "on-off," which cook at one temperature and then switch off. The educated, high-income Gen-Xers around the Pacific Rim, says Chen, are eschewing the on-off cookers and snatching up the new generation of rice cookers.

Chen's enthusiasm stems from the fact that he is the CEO of Fujitronic Manufacturing, makers of rice cookers, including a top-of-the-line fuzzy logic model. Chen is not the cook in his home, but when he says the on-off cooker is to the fuzzy logic as McDonald's is to a French restaurant. That feels like passion. And when he says "the fuzzy logic cooker has wisdom," he grabs your attention.

Sounds like a hook for New Agers and Baby Boomers, not Gen-Xers.

As it turns out, pioneer fuzzy logicians do evoke higher powers and a great deal of wisdom when describing its function. Bart Kosko, professor of electrical engineering, author and expert on artificial intelligence and neural networks, has claimed that Buddha was really the world's first fuzzy theorist.

Fuzzy logic recognizes more than simple true and false values; it sees degrees of truthfulness, for example, in the statement, "There is a 25 percent chance of rain today." Fuzzy logic deals with complex real systems. The Japanese learned exactly how well it worked when they used fuzzy logic to operate subway cars, which then ran and stopped more smoothly than when they were human-operated or automated. Fuzzy logic balanced out the complex components of acceleration, deceleration and braking.

Rice cooks in basically four stages: It stands in water, it boils, it absorbs (the "steamed stage") and then it rests. Heat is accelerated or decelerated for each stage and in different ways for each variety of rice.

In other words, the fuzzy logic cooker does what a real cook does, using its senses and intuition when it is cooking rice, watching and intervening when necessary to turn heat up or down, and reacting to the kind of rice in the pot, the volume and the time needed.

The Chronicle Food staff tested a fuzzy logic machine (see the accompanying story) against an on-off rice cooker, to see how they measured up. We used a Zojirushi NS-ZAC10 fuzzy logic machine and a Fujitronic 2003 model (FR-810) on-off cooker. The on-off model is now jazzed up to do many tricks, including making porridge, steaming and keeping rice warm after it turns off.

We found that rice cooked in the fuzzy was uniform, with each grain fully expanded, giving the rice great sweetness and aroma. (Water amounts can be adjusted to cook the rice to the stickier consistency preferred in Japanaese, Korean and northern Chinese cuisine.) In the first flight of tests using a 20- some-year-old on-off model (now available for as little as $15), a 2003 on-off ($59) model and the fuzzy logic, we liked the taste of fuzzy logic and old- fashioned pot-on-the-stovetop best. Our next favorite was rice cooked in the 2003 on-off model, although the kernels were not evenly cooked. The earliest on-off model, a machine for which we were so utterly grateful 20 years ago, produced unevenly expanded rice that did not taste as sweet.

In subsequent tests, the fuzzy logic did what it promised, making a risotto, a pilaf, a Chinese vegetable rice (caifan in Mandarin, choyfan in Cantonese), porridge (also known as congee or jook) as well as steel-cut oats, which proved to us that it could make polenta and grits. Its "wisdom" did adjust to qualities, although not necessarily to each taster's personal taste. As author Kaufman says, "Every rice cooker is different," and each cook must adjust to her rice cooker.

It is also true that "no one rice cooker does everything. You need to think about how much to spend and what you primarily want to use it for," she adds. In the meantime, prices for the fuzzy logic also seem to be falling and it pays to shop around. Fujitronic recently brought its $149 fuzzy logic down to $99.

A sophisticated on-off cooker steams food better, for example, and can keep rice warm. Still, even on that score, it is important to choose the brand with the features you need. The Fujitronic fuzzy logic, streamlined for the Chinese market, claims to steam, and also makes porridge in both Cantonese and Taiwanese styles.

Kaufman also likes the fuzzy logic for its ability to cook beans and peas, and the quality of the cooked rice as it keeps warm for up to 10 hours. Whichever you choose, it is a truth all Asian cooks have known since the advent of the rice cooker -- a rice cooker frees one burner on the stove and one burner in your brain.

Basic Rice Cooker Pilaf




1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3/4 cup finely chopped shallots

2 rice-cooker cups long-grain white rice, washed and drained

Salt and pepper to taste

Water or stock to the 2-cup line in rice cooker, about 2 cups



Turn on the fuzzy logic rice cooker and set on "regular/sushi" (the highest setting). Put in butter and oil. Once the butter has melted add the shallots and stir to coat.

Add rice, season with salt and pepper and cook until the shallots are translucent and the rice is lightly toasted. Add water to the appropriate line on the rice cooker's bowl.

Reset the cooker (for a new "cook" cycle). Close the lid and let the rice cooker do the rest.

Yields 3 cups

PER 1/2 CUP: 300 calories, 6 g protein, 57 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat (2 g saturated), 5 mg cholesterol, 24 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.

Grape Risotto




2 teaspoons olive oil

2 teaspoons + 1 to 2 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup minced shallots

1/2 cup Muscat wine

1 full cup Arborio rice

1 cup peeled Muscat grapes, + a few grapes for garnish

About 3 1/4 cups vegetable, chicken or veal stock, or enough to fill to the porridge line + 1/4 cup



Turn on the fuzzy logic rice cooker to the "quick cook" setting, and put in oil, 2 teaspoons butter and shallots, stirring with a wooden spoon to coat.

Pour in the wine and cook to evaporate the alcohol. Add the rice and cook until the edge of the grains turn translucent.

Add the grapes and stock, and reset the machine to "porridge." Once the cycle has ended, fold in the remaining 1 to 2 tablespoons butter and serve.

Yields 2 cups

PER 1/2 CUP: 270 calories, 5 g protein, 41 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat (3 g saturated), 13 mg cholesterol, 929 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.

Dirty Rice


All our testing left us with an abundance of leftovers, and some Aidell's andouille sausage inspired us to create an American-style fried rice.



3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1/2 cup diced carrot

1 cup diced celery

1 tablespoon brandy

4 garlic cloves, minced

3/4 pound andouille sausage, sliced on the bias

1 teaspoon mustard powder

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

1 tablespoon salt

8 cups cooked rice, chilled

1 tablespoon hot sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar



Combine 1 tablespoon oil with the onion, carrot and celery in a large Dutch oven. Saute over high heat until the vegetables are soft and begin to brown. Add the brandy, stirring to dislodge the browned bits from the pan. Remove vegetables from the pan and set aside.

Add garlic, sausage and 1 tablespoon oil to the Dutch oven and saute over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Return vegetables to the pot, then add mustard powder, paprika, coriander, cumin, cayenne, black pepper and sage. Stir to evenly distribute the seasonings.

Sprinkle the salt over the rice and, using your hands, break up large clumps. Add the rice to the Dutch oven and stir to combine. Cook the rice until browned bits form on the bottom of the pot.

Finish by stirring in the hot sauce, the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the vinegar. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Serves 8 to 10

PER SERVING: 325 calories, 9 g protein, 40 g carbohydrate, 14 g fat (4 g saturated), 23 mg cholesterol, 1,079 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.

Green Vegetable Rice


This is the classic green vegetable rice that is found in northern and eastern Chinese cuisine.



4 to 6 tablespoons vegetable oil, rendered lard or chicken fat

2 shallots, minced

4 cups baby bok choy, cut into 1/2-inch strips

Salt to taste

2 full cups medium- or long-grain rice

About 2 cups water or chicken stock



Add the oil to the fuzzy logic rice cooker and turn to the "regular cook" setting. Add the shallots and stir-fry until softened. Add the bok choy and stir-fry until wilted, adding salt to taste.

Add the rice and stir until the edges of the grains turn translucent. Add water to the appropriate level. Reset the program to "regular cook," close the cover and cook until all water is absorbed.

Yields about 4 cups

PER 1/2 CUP: 240 calories, 4 g protein, 40 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat (1 g saturated), 0 cholesterol, 26 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.