Recently one of AnswerLine’s Facebook followers asked about electric pressure cookers and Instant Pot. Not knowing much about either myself, I promised to do some research and share what I learned. This is a timely question as Electric Programmable Pressure Cookers (EPPCs) have increased in popularity in recent years and Consumer Reports has included an electric pressure cooker in its Holiday Gifts for the Family Chef article. With anything new, there comes lots of questions: are EPPCs safe, is pressure cooked food nutritious, does cost equate quality, and are these cookers/pots all they are cracked up to be? The noted promise of an EPPC is to save you time so you can eat well. So if you are thinking about putting an electric pressure cooker on your holiday list, here are some things you will want to know.
Pressure cookers have long been noted to decrease cooking time, reduce energy consumption, and retain nutrient quality equal to or higher than that of foods cooked by other methods. In today’s world, the consumer has a wide choice of pressure cookers ranging from the conventional stovetop pot to the EPPCs known as the Third Generation of pressure cookers which are safer and easier to use with the big advantage of convenience over stovetop models—you don’t have to watch the pot! A Cook’s Illustrated article points out some disadvantages of EPPCs to stove top models which included capacity, non-stick coatings, inadequate handles, weaker heating elements, and storage issues.
Nearly all EPPCs these days are multi-cookers that include slow-cooking, searing, sautéing, simmering, steaming, yogurt making, and warming functions. An Instant Pot is simply one of many multi-cookers designed to replace a slow cooker, EPPC, rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, sauté/browning pan, and warming pot. These cookers may be touted as “6 in 1” or “7 in 1” which really mean very little. The multi-cooker that does what you want it to do is the most important consideration. While there are many websites that provide information and/or recommendations on EPPCs or multi-cookers, Utah State University Extension tested five different cookers and compared several consumer considerations including safety features, ease of operation, cleaning, and special features. Based on their tests, the following features were deemed the most important to consider before purchasing an EPCC:
- Look for a safety valve that locks the appliance while still under pressure.
- A spring-loaded venting system (quick-release vent) delivers the best and most consistent performance.
- Look for a pressure setting of 10psi or above.
- Detailed trouble shooting/safety sections and thorough instructions on use and care in the User’s Manuel is a must.
Last, but not least, I must address the difference between a pressure cooker whether it is a stove top model, an EPPC, or a multi-cooker AND a pressure canner. A pressure cooker is not a pressure canner and should NEVER be used for canning. Often, the two are used interchangeably in conversation and I want to make it clear that they are NOT! A pressure canner is designed to CAN low-acid foods for storage in canning jars at a temperature higher than boiling water. Pressure cookers are designed to cook everyday foods and as such heat up and cool too quickly to adequately process canned food safely. Articles by Oregon State University Extension Service, Michigan State University Extension, and the National Center for Home Food Preseration provide great and detailed information on the difference between pressure cookers and canners and why cookers cannot be used as canners.