Why Haven't Rice Cookers Ruled South Asia, Especially India?
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Rice has a special place in Indian culture. Archaeological evidence suggests that rice has been grown in the region for thousands of years. A variety of indigenous rice grows in India. Each one is special, with its own unique characteristics. In many Indian cultures, rice is a traditional component of everyday meals. 

It’s offered to Hindu deities as a symbol of prosperity and finds itself included in rituals and religious ceremonies. Indians cook Pulao, biryani, and rice kheer as part of celebrations and festivities and also cook rice with lentils to make comforting dishes such as Khichdi, Dal Chawal, and Sambar Rice.

It could come as a surprise to many that while Indians cook rice so often, they tend to steer clear of gadgets such as the rice cooker, a kitchen appliance specifically designed to cook rice by automating the cooking process. What has made the rice cooker popular over the years is the fact that it saves time and makes sure that the cooking of rice requires no supervision. It simplifies the process of making rice by controlling the cooking temperature and making sure that the result is consistent. The rice turns out perfectly cooked each time. 

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In countries such as Japan, China, and South Korea, where rice is a staple as well, the rice cooker has fared better. The fast-paced modern life, especially in the urban areas of these countries, has a demand for convenience, making innovations in technology to save time and effort important. While they stick to their traditional and cultural love for eating rice, they have adapted to modern ways of cooking it.

Another reason for the popularity of rice cookers in these countries is that eating sticky rice is a common practice. Most rice cookers work well for these varieties of rice. In India and Pakistan, where long-grain rice varieties such as Basmati are preferred, the rice tends to become sticky or glued rather than fluffy like it is expected to be. The grains are not separated as preferred in these parts of the world.

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There are so many varieties of rice that grow in India. From the red rice to the black rice and the Basmati, Gobindobhog, and Indrayni, the list is endless. These varieties of rice require different cooking methods and times. Traditional methods allow for more flexibility to adapt to these variations, whereas rice cookers might not accommodate all types of rice as effectively. In many parts of India, it is believed that boiling rice in water and then draining out the excess water by straining the rice is healthier and removes the excess starch from the water. That's not possible in a rice cooker.

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In India, however, there are several other factors that could be the reason for the lower popularity of rice cookers. Indian households have a long tradition of cooking rice on the stovetop, either in a pressure cooker or in an open, large vessel. This method is quick, efficient, and, most importantly, familiar to most people. This is almost a habit, just like brushing your teeth or reading the newspaper. While some may be able to get rid of the habit because of the constraints of time, many others refuse to change.

South Asians have a reputation for relying on age-old practices, especially when it comes to food. For example, we often choose to toast bread on a tava instead of a toaster or make chai in a vessel placed on a stovetop instead of using an electric kettle.

Culturally, eating rice hot and freshly cooked just before meal times is preferred in South Asia. Though rice cookers might also keep rice warm for a longer period, pre-cooked and kept-ready rice may be convenient but isn't always considered fresh. 

In Indian cooking, there are usually multiple steps and spices are added during the cooking process. Cooking on stovetops allows for more control over these steps. In dishes like the biryani for instance, spices are sauteed and onions are browned before adding rice, which is easier to manage on the stovetop. 

The typical Indian mindset is to look for multi-purpose gadgets. While the rice cooker can be used to steam and make more than just rice, the common perception is that the rice cooker is a single-use item. The pressure cooker, on the other hand, is used to cook plain rice, a variety of other rice-based dishes such as pulaos and biryanis, as well as to make curries with vegetables and rice. 

While rice cookers are available on the market, they are not as widely promoted or marketed as pressure cookers, which have been around for much longer. It’s considered a versatile and highly valued kitchen appliance. Pressure cookers are often more affordable, too.

Middle-class kitchens in both India and Pakistan are compact and even if one wants to add a rice cooker, sometimes the space to keep it is a problem and getting one becomes low on priority. Also, rice cookers need electricity to run. South Asians still mostly depend on LPG stoves. Many cities face severe power outages, especially in small towns and rural areas, making it difficult for people to use gadgets that rely on electricity.