Sunday, December 18, 2016

Rice cooker blind taste test

To find out whether high-end rice cookers truly make a difference in the taste of rice, The Wall Street Journal conducted a blind taste test under the guidance of ricemeister Toyozou Nishijima. Mr. Nishijima is one of about 4,000 rice experts in Japan who have passed a rigorous exam by the rice retailers' association Japan Rice Retailers' Association, testing their knowledge as well as their abilities to blend, store and polish rice correctly and identify rice varietals in a taste test.

Using four different rice cookers -- flagship models by Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., Hitachi Ltd. and Mitsubishi Electric as well as a three-year-old, less expensive Matsushita rice cooker I use at home for comparison -- we made two cups of rice, each with standard rice from a grocery store and soft water that was bottled domestically. A Mitsubishi Electric spokesman had warned us against using expensive European mineral water because its high mineral content gives a flavor that gets in the way of the taste of the rice.

When Mr. Nishijima arrived at our Tokyo office, we put four bowls of rice in front of him. At his request, we provided bottled soft water so he could cleanse his palate between tastings. We served the rice in bowls made of porcelain, a material that's free of any smells that could interfere with the scent of the rice.

For each bowl, Mr. Nishijima first took a close look at the rice, smelled it, and then took a bite, chewing slowly. We didn't tell him which rice cooker brands we used, but he guessed the manufacturers of three of them correctly.

"The taste preferences of the developer that created the original concept for the rice cookers often translate directly into the manufacturers' characteristic," said Mr. Nishijima. ...

The old Matsushita machine, for example, is a quintessential Matsushita rice cooker, he said. The rice was softer and increased sweetness with chewing, which was a characteristic that women tended to appreciate more because they tend to chew their rice for a longer time than men. Mr. Nishijima was impressed with the latest high-end Matsushita model because it made very sticky rice with a sweetness that could be tasted right away.

Mr. Nishijima said the rice made by Hitachi's high-end rice cooker was a little too sticky and lacked sweetness. "The rice has absorbed too much water, but it could be preferred by older people, who want softer rice," he said.

As for the Mitsubishi rice cooker, Mr. Nishijima said it made a harder rice that seemed a little dry. While it was difficult to taste the sweetness of the rice right after it cooked, the sweetness normally increases after several hours, he said.
--Yukari Iwatani Kane, WSJ, on why rice is better in Japan