I remember asking myself that same question some 20 years ago when I first saw rice cookers at the Housewares Show in Chicago in 1999. There were thousands of models and some of them very pricey! I could not imagine anyone would like rice so much they would spend several hundred dollars to produce it. I grew up in New England where my grandmother made everything from scratch, except rice, she bought the instant rice. I understand now why she choose that product. Cooking rice on top of the stove can have inconsistent results, sticking, burning, the rice is too hard or too mushy. The instant rice was not as delicious but it was consistent.
Several years after seeing the first models of rice cookers, I was given one by the manufacturer I was working for on a shopping network, they asked me to come up with a few recipes for the manual and work on a demonstration for TV to encourage people to buy the product. The model they had given me was a very simple model, you just rinse and measure the rice with the little cup it came with and there were corresponding marks on the inside of the removable insert to add the equivalent amount of water, so if you put in 4 measures of rinsed rice, you filled water to the line marked four. Then you would press a button down, the cooker would switch to keep warm when the rice was done. I made one batch of rice like this and could see there is merit in perfectly steamed rice that you did not have to watch over which came out perfect every time.
I wanted to know how this was achieved, the engineer stated that there were heating elements on the bottom and side of the cooker for even heat transfer, plus a sensor which would sense when all the liquid evaporated because the temperature would go above 212 degrees Fahrenheit. With this information in hand, I went on to create some other things one could cook with the evaporation method. See the Rice Cooker Macaroni and Cheese recipe on this page, it’s easy and delicious.
I went on to do other recipes like soups and cakes, pot roasts eggs. This really changed the way people looked at rice cookers. I have written 3 cookbooks with recipes for various types of rice cookers. I love them because they always go to keep warm if I did something wrong it will not cause a fire like food cooking on the stove so it’s fantastic for college students and forgetful seniors. It cooks with steam so there is no need for a lot of fat calories. The one-touch units are3 very affordable and easily portable. I will attach links to a couple of models of rice cookers I like as well as links to my books. I hope you enjoy this recipe for Thai Chicken Soup, it’s delicious.