Posted in: Lifestyle
Digital vs.Traditional Pressure Cookers: What’s The Difference?Those who’ve read our recent A Brief History of Pressure Cooking feature you’ll know that the pressure cooker is an intriguing appliance with a long and illustrious history. From the primitive early iterations right through to the all-singing, all-dancing digital pressure cookers we see today, the innovative bit of cookware kit really has changed food preparation for the better. For many of us wanting to get in on the pressure cooking action however, making the right choice between traditional, stove-top pressure cookers and digital pressure cookers is difficult. If you’re a tad confused as to the difference between the two types then read on as we’ve complied this handy guide outlining the pros and cons of each.
Head to HeadDigital pressure cookers require hardly any supervision when building, maintaining and releasing pressure during cooking, they do take longer to get to optimum pressure than ‘stove top’ pressure cookers. Granted, that time frame is only fractionally longer – digital pressure cookers on average take around 15 minutes to reach optimum pressure vs around 10 minutes for stove top appliances – but there’s a more noticeable difference in the time it takes for pressure to release (25 mins digital vs 10 mins stove top). Why such contrasting times? Well, digital pressure cookers have their own built-in heating element and so cannot be removed from the heat source, not to mention the fact that the electric coil needs time to cool and double-walled construction means that heat loss is insulated against. Whilst that might sound like a hindrance, the insulated nature means that digital pressure cookers are up to 60% more efficient than stove top pressure cookers as the heat is concentrated within the appliance itself and doesn’t escape into the kitchen as when using gas hobs. The most noticeable difference between the two variants of pressure cookers though is definitely the level of pressure that each can achieve. Most stove top pressure cookers in the UK adhere to the industry standard of 15psi (Pounds per Square Inch) but digital pressure cookers can vary greatly depending on manufacturer and model. Many are often clocked below 15psi and this lower pressure means that they take more time to achieve the same results as an equivalent stove top pressure cooker. As such, it’s important to adjust recommended cooking times depending on the type of appliance being used.
Heat RegulationStove top pressure cookers require more supervision when heating so as to reach optimum cooking temperature and pressure. This can be seen as a disadvantage as users must first subject the appliance to high heat to make it reach pressure but then adapt the heat source to medium (and then low) to find the exact temperature to keep the cooker from going into over-pressure or losing pressure. It’s a bit like finding the bite point when driving a car – pressure cooker users may have to have a few goes with a new appliance to get used to its nuances. Digital pressure cookers however completely remove the need for this constant tweaking – users simply select a cooking program and let the appliance take care of the rest. This might appeal to casual users or those for who time is precious but many prefer the freedom offered by stove top pressure cookers when it comes to bespoke preparation methods.
Pressure SettingsStove top pressure cookers generally have two pressure settings – HIGH (12-15psi) and LOW (6-10psi). This range of 12-15psi is what is known as ‘standard’ pressure and is used by cookbook compilers to inform the cooking times in recipes. Pressure selection is very straightforward when using the appliance – there’s usually a dial marked with each pressure level or a bar that rises whilst the cooker is reaching pressure indicating the level it’s currently at. Digital pressure cookers on the other hand vary greatly – the maximum pressure they can reach is different depending on model and manufacturer, as is the number of pressure settings. Most digital pressure cookers have pre-sets for different food groups as opposed to HIGH and LOW, so you needn’t worry so much about exact pressure levels. It’s important to know whether your cooker can reach the 12-15psi standard, if not, you’ll have to adjust cook times accordingly if following recipes from a cookbook.
Opening MethodsStove top pressure cookers can be opened using the 'Natural Release' method after around 8-10 minutes after the cook time has elapsed. This method entails removing the pressure cooker from the heat source and simply letting the pressure reduce naturally. The other means of opening a stove top cooker is called the ‘Cold Water Quick Release’ and involves slowly running cold tap water, over the edge of the pressure cooker lid, making sure to avoid the steam vent and other valves. It’s most suitable for foods with short cooking times and usually takes around 20-30 seconds for the appliance to cool enough so that the internal pressure is lowered to a level safe to open. Given their electrical components and the fact that the heating element is internal digital pressure cookers cannot be opened using this method but they are able to cool enough to be opened using Normal Release within 3-4 minutes of the cooking time elapsing. Natural Release on the other hand takes around 25 minutes. It’s important to remember that when using either type of pressure cooker to cook foods such as grains and fruit, pressure release should not be done via the main valve. This is because these types of food foam during cooking and using this release method is messy, not to mention potentially dangerous.
Safety & DurabilityBoth variants of pressure cooker have several in-built safety features to prevent exploding and sudden release of hot foods and liquids. A lid-lock that prevents the user from opening the cooker when it’s at pressure is a key safety feature of stove top pressure cookers and a similar function that works even when the appliance isn’t in use can be found on digital pressure cookers. In addition, it’s not uncommon for both types of pressure cooker to have two release valves to protect against over-pressure should the user neglect to reduce the heat for whatever reason. These are usually backed up by an emergency gasket pressure release should those two fail. Digital pressure cookers generally have other safety features such as leak detection sensors and automatic temperature control via electro-thermostat to prevent excess pressure build/foods burning. Modern day pressure cookers are constructed from durable materials such as stainless steel and aluminium and as such, offer years of service. Digital pressure cookers are more susceptible to failure however given that they contain electrical components that can wear out after prolonged use. Silicon elements used in seals (both types of cooker) as well as external thermal-resistant outer-casings (digital only) are also prone to damage but are easily replaced.
And The Winner Is…There isn't one. Both types of pressure cooker are durable, functional appliances that make preparing healthy meals with locked in vitamins and nutrients easier. They’re also both much more efficient than traditional cooking methods and use less energy. Yes, stove top pressure cookers do take up valuable hob space (unlike digital pressure cookers), but they’re also much easier to store as you can stow them away in a cupboard with regular pots and pans. So, we guess it comes down to your own personal preference – like to tweak and tinker with cooking times and appreciate easy storage, then chose a stove top. Appreciate ease of use and multi-cooker options, then a digital appliance might be the best option for you.