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It might not be the best idea for most types of rice.
But why? Most of my grandmas’ recipes recommend it. What could be so bad about it? Usually, it helps me to cook rice faster. All these thoughts were in my head, too, as I was thinking about this topic.
So why is soaking rice before cooking in a rice cooker a bad thing?
You already know the answer to this question. The reason is the time it takes to cook the rice. As you soak rice before cooking, it allows rice to absorb additional water and cuts down the time needed to be that fluffy miracle you are looking for.
So that’s the short version, now let’s get to the detailed one.
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Soaking the rice before cooking in a rice cooker
What is happening in a rice cooker, you already know from my article on how do rice cookers work. Water and rice in 2:1 ratio, heat, time, and you have perfect rice.
Simple, right? You need heat to vaporize water, so the oxygen atoms of rice will suck up the molecules of water and get fluffy and cooked.
But and this is a big one if you soak the rice before cooking it (the time recommended in general is about 30 minutes) in a rice cooker it will still absorb some of that water. In turn, it gains volume and shortens the time for cooking by about 20%.
So I will get my rice faster? Great!
Well, not so much.
You see, most of the rice cookers that you will encounter, cannot account for rice being soaked before cooking. They ‘know’ that you have rice and water in a bowl, and they will cook it until there is some water, i.e., hot vapor. Once it is gone, the heat inside the pot will activate the heat sensors and either turn the rice cooker off or switch it to keep warm.
So what will happen if you soak the rice before cooking in a rice cooker?
The additional water absorbed by rice shortens the time needed for cooking it to perfection. In turn, your rice will stay in a rice cooker longer than required, gains more water than is necessary, and turn into a mushy mess.
My recommendation is to not soak the rice before cooking it in a rice cooker. You are aiming for perfection, don’t bring down your main course just because you want to save a bit of time.
Is rinsing rice before cooking in the rice cooker still ok?
It depends on what you are looking for. In general, it is recommended to rinse the rice before cooking it, as it loses most of its surface starches, rice dust, or any unwanted bits, and the grains do not stick together into one huge ball.
Then again, you might be looking for stickier rice in your recipe to cover meatballs in it and deep fry it, for example.
One situation in which you might not want to rinse your rice is if it is enriched. This information should be on a package of your rice. The enriched word means that rice has been sprayed with additional vitamins and nutrients. Rinsing, in this case, will get rid of those, so always make sure what type of rice you are using before rinsing.
What to do if the rice is already soaked?
If your rice is already soaked or you need to soak it before cooking in a rice cooker, make sure you are using a rice cooker that can compensate for this.
In my experience, one of the best producers of rice cookers which can do that is Zojirushi, specifically Zojirushi NP-HCC10XH. You can find a lot more about it here in my article about rice cookers with timers.
It is a bit on the expensive side, but it is well worth the price if you are looking into making rice multiple times a week, cooking a large variety of different rice types, or you want to have rice made in a specific way.
If you soaked the rice and changed your mind last minute, there is not a lot that you can do about it. The process of absorption has already started. The structure of rice is changing.
One possible solution would be to spread it over the baking sheet and to put it into the oven. I have discussed this with a friend of mine named John, and the issue of this approach is the fact that you have to be sure. The timing is critical here, so watching the rice like a hawk is essential. You don’t want to burn the rice while trying to dry it.
The additional problem is that the structure of rice is changed so that it might taste and feel strange. You are better of either going with it and using the rice for a different recipe or throwing it away and using another batch.
So I hope I have been able to answer your question if it is a good idea to soak rice before cooking it in a rice cooker.
From my point of view, it is not. But if you need it to be soaked for any reason, go with the standard way of cooking it. You know, the old school way – water, rice, pot, heat, and some elbow grease :-D.
Keep your rice cooker for more everyday recipes or get something cool like pretty much anything from Zojirushi to keep you without worrying about the results.
Until next time, have steamy and unsoaked cooking.