Every month, Engadget features what our editors are currently into, whether it be video games, podcasts or gadgets. These are not official reviews; they're simply our first-hand experiences. This week, Senior Editor Nicole Lee gives her take on the Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker.
A long-standing joke among my family and friends over the past couple of decades is that I'm not a true Asian. Why? Because I didn't have a rice cooker. Since rice is a staple of the Asian diet, rice cookers are commonplace in most Asian households. But for years, I refused to get one. That is, until recently, when I finally gave in and got a $195 Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker. And ironically, what I ended up liking most about it isn't rice at all.
The reason I held off was mostly that I didn't think I needed it. Since I only live with my husband, I told myself I didn't need a single-purpose appliance. After all, I could already make rice on the stove with just a saucepan. I've become adept at making small portions of rice over the years. Plus, it only takes 18-or-so minutes. A rice cooker, on the other hand, can typically take 35 minutes or longer. So even though I enjoy rice enough to make it regularly, I just couldn't quite justify the seeming inconvenience.
This, however, was challenged over this past winter break. We had our family over on Christmas Eve, so I ordered takeout from a local Chinese restaurant. At one point, we ran out of rice, so I set about making more on the stove. I had to make rice for around 10 people, which I'm not used to doing. Long story short, my calculations were off, and the rice I made ended up crunchier than I would like. Of course, my family didn't complain, but I was still a little upset with myself. That's when I reconsidered getting a dedicated rice cooker.
After some research, I opted for the Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker. Sure it's expensive - you can easily get basic models for less than $50 - but I wanted one that can cook all kinds of rice such as short-grain and medium-grain white rice, long-grain jasmine rice, sweet (or sticky) rice, brown rice and more. More importantly, I wanted a cooker with "fuzzy logic" (yes, that's an industry term), which essentially means that the device has a computer chip. This gives it the smarts to adjust temperature and cook time to accommodate other variables, such as human error (like what I experienced over Christmas), to ensure perfectly cooked rice every time.
I've now had it for a few weeks, and I love it. It really does make cooking rice so much easier. Instead of having to fuss over the stove, I can just rinse the rice, add water, push a button and walk away. It also has a "Keep Warm" function that lasts over five hours, giving me plenty of time to prepare dinner as the rice cooks. It also comes with a handy guide that tells you the proper rice and water ratio for all the different kinds of rice. On top of that, it has a timer so you can have the rice ready whenever you want it.
But I'd argue the killer function of the Neuro Fuzzy isn't rice at all. I've discovered that it actually makes amazing oatmeal from steel-cut oats. I learned about this from an NYT Cooking recipe for "Rice Cooker Steel-Cut Oats," (link requires subscription) and it is really such a game changer for me. Steel-cut oatmeal usually takes 20 or so minutes to make, and I don't usually have time for it in the mornings. But with the rice cooker, I just dump in one cup of oats followed by four cups of water and a teaspoon of salt before I go to bed, set the timer for 8AM, toggle the menu to the Porridge setting, press Cook, and I get to wake up to fresh oatmeal every morning. What's more, the resulting oatmeal is the best I've ever had. The texture is so creamy and smooth, making it the perfect vehicle for both sweet and savory applications. I like mine with spam, spinach and furikake.
Additionally, and it admittedly sounds silly to talk about a rice cooker this way, but the Neuro Fuzzy is just adorable. Its long oval shape gives it a rounded, egg-like appearance that I find aesthetically pleasing. It also plays a tune whenever it starts or ends cooking. My favorite design feature, however, is its power cord: it's retractable! This way you can store it away without a nest of cables to contend with.
Perhaps the only real downside of the Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker is that it's pretty slow. White rice takes around 40 or so minutes to cook, while brown rice can take 90 minutes or longer (stovetop timing on the other hand, ranges from 18 minutes for white rice to 45 minutes or so for brown rice). Still, that's a small price to pay for perfectly cooked rice, creamy morning oatmeal and, hopefully, no more ruined Christmases.