I needed to replace my tried and true rice cooker because the inner pot was starting to peel and I felt it was unsafe to keep using. You see I bought it many, many years ago when I did not give Teflon coating a second thought. Of course, I took to the internet to research eco-friendly rice cookers because I wanted to buy one that was not coated in Teflon and actually safe to eat from.

I found out that rice cookers, in general, are energy efficient, so I did not need to take energy consumption into too much consideration when deciding which one I should purchase. 

There are, however, a few things to keep in mind when choosing an eco-friendly rice cooker to suit your needs. This is what I learned:

Characteristics of an eco-friendly rice cooker:

  • Teflon-free inner pot
  • Proper size for your use
  • Functions you will actually use

Teflon-free Inner Pot     

In my opinion, this is the most important feature of an eco-friendly rice cooker. To be honest, even if you are not specifically looking for an eco-friendly type, this is still the most important aspect of choosing a rice cooker for you and your family. 

A quick overview of why Teflon is horrible and why you should avoid it is because: this nonstick coating contains harmful chemicals (PTFE and PFOA) that can leach into your foods when cooked at high temperatures or if the surface gets scratched.  These chemicals are harmful to both humans and the environment and should be avoided at all costs.

Safe Alternatives to Teflon

Fortunately, there are options other than Teflon for your rice cooking needs. 

  1. Stainless Steel: Safe to use at high temperatures and will not leach harmful chemicals into your food.  It is also recyclable at the end of its life, so that is a nice environmentally friendly bonus. One caveat with stainless steel inner pots is rice tends to stick to the bottom so they require a good soak after use before scrubbing them clean.
  2. Ceramic: Keeps food hot for a long time, so no need to put on the warmer function, a plus for energy efficiency. Rice will not stick to this inner pot. A downside to ceramic is that it generally coats over an aluminum pot and can wear and become thin and scratched over time, leaving it vulnerable and potentially releasing nanoparticles from the aluminum into the food. However, it is unclear as to whether or not these nanoparticles are harmful to humans or not. It’s best to do your own research and decide for yourself.
  3. Clay: Made with no lead, aluminum or toxins, unglazed clay cooking pots provide consistent cooking for fluffy, great tasting rice while preserving the nutrients of the rice. A few caveats with clay pots is they are hard to find, and they can break easier than the stainless steel or ceramic inner pots. Also, rice may stick to the pot so some soaking will be involved when cleaning it.

What size rice cooker should you buy?

An important aspect to consider when choosing an eco-friendly rice cooker is the size.  It makes sense that a single person or couple who make rice often should choose a smaller 3-cup rice cooker. For a larger family, a 4-6 cup rice cooker would be most appropriate. 

Rice Cooker Size

Trying to decipher how much rice a cooker can actually cook is a little bit tricky. For example, does a 3-cup rice cooker mean it can cook 3 cups of dry rice or can it hold 3 cups total of cooked rice? The following information should bring some clarity to your burning questions.

  1. The cup provided with the rice cooker is the standard unit of measurement when referring to the number of cups of rice it can cook. It can be smaller than a regular measuring cup, typically measuring 6 – 8 ounces or 3/4 – 1 cup.
  2. Cooked rice is about twice the volume of dry rice. For example, one cup of dry rice will equal 1.5-2 cups of cooked rice.
  3. Unless otherwise stated, manufacturers advertise the size as the amount of dry rice the rice cooker can cook.

What Size should I get?

A 3-cup rice cooker can cook up to 3 cups of dry rice, totaling around 4.5-6 cups of cooked rice. This size would be suitable for a single person or couple with the option of left-overs.

A 6-cup rice cooker can cook up to 6 cups of dry rice, totaling around 9-12 cups of cooked rice. An average family of 3-6 people would benefit from a rice cooker this big. Any larger than this and you are looking at very large families or small restaurant sizes.

It is more energy efficient to cook large batches of rice and have enough for the next day, so a larger 6-cup rice cooker may be ideal if leftovers are your jam. However, if you like fresh rice and will be cooking a new batch every time you eat it, a smaller 3-cup rice cooker would be more efficient than a larger one in this case.

What features should you look for when buying a rice cooker?

Knowing what features you require before you go out and purchase your rice cooker is a must. Surprisingly, there are a lot of options to choose from. Rice cookers, in general, are not a huge drain on your energy bill, so if you desire one with all the bells and whistles, you can rest assured you are not hurting the planet too much. You don’t need to sacrifice performance for a greener option. Here are some features you may want to keep in mind when deciding which one is right for you:

  1. Ease of Use: The simpler the operation, the better, at least in my opinion. Do you really want to read the manual every time you cook rice? A simple push button or two is the way to go. You’re not launching a rocket, after all. 
  2. Type of Cooker: Do you require a multi-use cooker that can cook your meal as well as your rice or do you just need a no-frills rice cooker? This is an important decision that can impact the quality of your dinners. Choose wisely.
  3. Delay Start: If you want your rice ready and waiting for you when you get home from school or work, a delayed start may be a necessity. Simply put some rice and water into the cooker, set the delay timer for later on that day, and Voila! fresh rice when you return home. This is great for those busy hockey nights when you have all of 10 minutes to feed yourself and your kids before rushing out the door again.
  4. Easy to Clean: It shouldn’t take all night to clean your rice cooker. A dishwasher friendly inner pot is a good option for busy families (or for anyone that enjoys one less dish to wash…ahem me…).  As an aside, most rice will become unstuck after a few minutes of soaking in water, so sticky rice is not too big of a deal.

Top 4 Eco-Friendly Rice Cooker Brands to Consider

Now that you know what type of rice cooker you need, it might be useful to know what brands to look for as well. Here are a few you might want to consider:

  1. Aroma: Specifically the ARC-753SG 3-Cup Uncooked, 6-Cup Cooked, Simply Stainless Rice Cooker. This is a great little rice cooker for a single person, couple, or small family. Complete with a stainless steel inner bowl.
  2. VitaClay: One of the very few rice cookers with a clay pot.  Available in 6 or 8 cups uncooked rice size (that’s 12 or 16 cups of cooked rice), making this ideal for a small or large family. This is a slow cooker and rice cooker combined, so if you are looking for a multicooker, this one may be for you.
  3. Zojirushi: A high-tech rice cooker using induction heating and pressure to cook the rice. It claims to make perfect, fluffy rice every time. This would be a good choice for rice aficionados who like to mix it up and cook different types of rice regularly.
  4. Instant Pot: This is the multi-cooker that seems to be taking over the world. With a stainless steel insert and a seemingly endless amount of functions that cook everything from rice to beans to chili to desserts, if you are looking for a do-it-all type of cooker, this one is for you.

I hope you found this guide to choosing an eco-friendly rice cooker useful. I ended up choosing an Instant Pot based on its ability to cook a lot of tasty dishes (including rice) in a relatively short period of time. Perfect for a busy family with a Mom who is not exactly Julia Child in the kitchen.

What rice cooker to you use? Are you a multicooker or straight-up rice cooker kind of person? Let me know in the comments below. Cheers!

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