Rice cookers can help make a boring task easy without taking too much time, but with the Panasonic SR-HL151 rice cooker, neither task seems suitably solved.
If there’s one task that is rarely satisfying in the kitchen, it’s cooking rice. Easy but boring, it’s the sort of thing often best left to an appliance, compared with making risotto, which is actually quite fun (do it the Gordon Ramsay way and never go back).
Having that appliance in your kitchen is often quite important, because if you’re having rice for any reason, having something make it for you without effort is great, and indeed handy.
That’s what Panasonic’s latest rice cooker should be able to do. A rice cooker on the more expensive end of the technology, the Panasonic SR-HL151 is a roughly five hundred dollar appliance that can handle more than just cooking rice, and do so with the aid of some extra things your typical rice cooker mightn’t have. But it’s also very expensive, priced so much higher than the typical max spend of a $150 rice cooker.
Is Panasonic’s latest electronic rice cooker a success in the kitchen, or does it need work?
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What is the Panasonic SR-HL151?
The product number mightn’t be as sexy as they get, but you’re looking at a recent rice cooker, with this black box doing a little bit more, too. You’d never know it by simply reading the model code; no, this is another Panasonic model that bypasses the simple name describing roughly what the product does, but it is indeed a rice cooker, with a few more features thrown in.
Priced at $499 locally, Panasonic’s complex-named rice cooker features a 1.5 litre pot made of stainless steel and aluminium alloy, with the inside using Binchotan charcoal, a type of charcoal used in Japanese kitchens which is in this rice cooker for heat retention during the cooking process.
That 1.5 litre pot will sit in a heating system that uses induction heating both one the sides and bottom to cook the rice (and whatever else you’re having), and is what the “IH” means on the top (Induction Heating). It also aims to break down the starch, leaving you with less in the overall rice.
What does it do?
Of course, rice isn’t the only thing Panasonic’s SR-HL151 cooks. The top proudly tells you what you can make in the cooker, which is about as big as Panasonic’s bread maker, only this time, it’s for rice.
In fact, like a bread maker, the rice cooker can handle cake, but primarily focuses on rice and other grains, covering white rice, long grain rice, brown rice, multigrain rice, quinoa, and congee, though there’s also a steaming mode if you want to steam veggies or dumplings, with a steaming basket that can sit on top of the tub.
Does it do the job?
If cooking rice well is what you crave, the SR-HL151 is definitely made for purpose. It’s not fast enough it, but it does do a stellar job.
You’ll punch in the mode you want by jumping through the settings by pressing the arrows, and then working out how much time you should run the setting for, which leads you to needing to calculate that for yourself, often turning to the manual. There’s also a timer so you can program this to run later on, which is handy.
Almost every batch of rice we tested on Panasonic’s premium rice cooker came out well, with the exception being the one set to the speedy program. In that instance, the fast rice setting cooked in under 20 minutes, but felt slightly gluggy by comparison.
Compare that to the slightly longer and more drawn out programs — what Panasonic would probably call the more accurate rice programs — and you’d get rice perfection each and every time.
What does it need?
“Time”, however, is not on this rice cooker’s side, because using it to cook rice takes a lot longer than we could have imagined, and you need to lean on the manual pretty much always.
Let’s grapple with the problem of time first, because the Panasonic HL151 will eat your time as if there’s no issue in waiting. You’ve got everything else to do, right? Loads of time in the world. You’ll need it.
Panasonic’s manual is pretty direct about that, suggesting it would have two hours to cook brown rice. That’s compared to what our regular Breville Multi-cooker does, which handles any rice within the space of 30 minutes. It’s designed for rice, risotto, steaming, searing, and slow-cooking, and it cooks rice more efficiently, all without needing to touch the manual.
We thought it was maybe an extreme case where you’d need those two hours to cook 1.5 litres of brown rice. My, how wrong we were, with the rice cooker not finished until close to two hours had passed.
Granted, the rice it made was excellent, and some of the best brown rice we’d had, but expecting brown rice to cook in twenty minutes was more where our mindset was, not two hours. That’s insane.
Time is clearly a problem with this rice cooker, and it’s not one helped by the manual. If anything, the lack of attention to the appliance’s interface means the manual is a must have, and that’s not amazing for users.
There’s a general rule with gadgets and appliances whereby if you have to read the manual to operate it, something is actually wrong. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it might not have been designed very well, at least in a way that makes it obvious and user friendly.
With the SR-HL151, that is definitely one of the problems, because you simply have to read the manual to make this thing usable.
Follow the instructions found in Panasonic’s manual and you’ll be fine, but try using it without perusing, and you’ll risk hard rice that hasn’t been cooked properly or steamed food that’s still a little on the fresh and frozen side.
Aspects of the manual imply following along with tables to get the rice cooked beautifully, and if you ignore it, rice will come out gluggy, while steamed foods mightn’t be inside steaming for enough time, and still be a little frozen, or more than a little, as we found out after the first ten minutes.
Is it worth your money?
The other notable problem is the price, because at $499, this is not an inexpensive rice cooker. Not by a long shot.
Rice cookers range in price quite dramatically, hitting between $30 and $500 in Australia. The aforementioned Breville Multi Chef rice cooker we use retails for around $180, but can be found for closer to $100 if you look, while less expensive rice cookers can be found about the place. Panasonic even makes models for below $250.
But the SR-HL151 retails for $499 in Australia, making it just about the most expensive rice cooker we’ve seen, and we’re not sure it’s worth it. While it cooks great rice, it takes too long to do so and isn’t easy to use, and frankly, you could probably get one that ticks both of those boxes better for less.
Yay or nay?
All of this makes the Panasonic HL151 electronic rice cooker just that much harder to recommend. While there are some good functions here, with presets for things you mightn’t expect, there are just too many reasons to consider looking at something else. Between the time, price, and a lack of ease of use, this is not rice made easy.
Panasonic makes great gear, but we’re not sure this rice cooker is the best example of rice cooking done well.