Some may view an electric food steamer as a bit of a luxury, or perhaps a gimmick, to a growing number of us, they are fast becoming a vital every day part of the kitchen.
Many buy their first food steamer as part of healthier living, as steaming vegetables locks in nutrients as well as vitamins. However, steamers are not just confined to cooking veggies, meat, poultry and fish can also be steamed, doing away with the potentially unhealthy oils and fats that need to be used if cooking meats, seafoods (shelled), fish and eggs in the traditional way.
Food steamers are not just limited to savoury dishes either. Desserts, pasta and rice to name but a few additional food stuffs can also be cooked in this healthy way.
While the obvious health benefits of steaming food over the more traditional frying roasting and boiling are well known, there are also other, more subtle benefits to consider too.
Using a steamer, especially a free standing electric steamer frees up the hobs on a cooker, useful if cooking for a large gathering. This type of food steamer is also more economical to use, as only one heating element can be used just for one complete meal, meat veggies and all!
As with all popular products that are more than passing fads, the number of steamers on the market has ballooned. Some are truly excellent while others leave a lot to be desired. So which are the best food steamers currently available, and out of them, which one is the best?
Read on to find out why.
The Cuisinart ST1000U is a free standing electric food steamer. While it can be said that one food steamer looks just another, the ST1000U immediately sets itself apart from the rest of the appliances in this review by having a glass steaming dish instead of the usual options of either steel or plastic.
Cuisinart claims that making the ST1000U's steaming dish out of glass further enhances the flavour of the food and drastically reduces the risk of ingesting any BPAs which apparently can happen if using a plastic steaming dish (BPA is the abbreviation for Bisphenol A, which is one of the ingredients for making a variety of plastics and coatings. It has been widely used since the 1960's).
The glass steaming dish allows for visible cooking of a meal, avoiding taking lids off or removing the dish from the steaming element for checking. The ST1000U's glass dish is also dishwasher proof, making it extremely easy to clean.
Aesthetically, a glass steaming dish is more appealing than the usual plastic or metal steaming compartments , and can be taken from the steamer's base straight to the table without any embarrassment. The dish's glass lid is also quite novel as this is where the steam is introduced, making this Cuisinart steam cooker unique in that steam is introduced from above as opposed to the bottom.
The base of this steamer is made from easy to maintain brushed stainless steel and BPA free polycarbonate. The control panel is dominated by a relatively large and easy to read liquid crystal display. With only a simple power on/off switch, a dial-in timer, a start , as well as pause buttons, operation is very simple. Cooking time is by way of a countdown timer, which can be adjusted if more time is required.
In addition to steam cooking, the ST1000U has a reheat function and a warming function, to prevent food from cooling down.
A large removeable non-BPA polycarbonate water tank is used as a water reservoir and is large enough to steam an entire meal, without refilling.
With an 1800W heating element, the Cuisinart ST1000U is highly efficient at producing steam, being cheaper to run than an average kettle that requires a 3000W to heat water.
The Cuisinart ST1000U includes a simple steaming dish with lid, a colander dish for steaming rice as well as a steaming tray. For those of us that are at a loss as what to cook sometimes, Cuisinart provide a downloadable cookbook to offer inspiration.
Cuisinart (UK) covers the ST1000U with a 3 year warranty.
Despite this freestanding steam cooker's excellent features there are just a couple of negatives to consider. The actual size of the ST1000U has caused some concern amongst users. It is not the most compact of cookers, but in mitigation it never claimed to be!
Weight wise the Cuisinart ST1000U is not a lightweight, with an unladen weight of 5.7Kg it can take some effort to handle, and coupled with its bulk, it could be considered to be cumbersome. However, this steam cooker was not designed to be fully portable.
The Cuisinart is an extremely well made and innovative steam cooker, and in spite its size and weight really does deserve its accolade as being the best steamer .
Being a household name, Morphy Richards is well known for its products, in terms of tasteful design, quality and length of guarantee. The design team for the Morphy Richards 470006 "Intellisteam" Kitchen Food Steamer must have either had the day off or "designer's block" when designing this steamer.
Looking more like a commercial chip fryer than a steamer, the "Intellisteam" 470006 would not go amiss in a take away or café. With its two large steaming dishes made from stainless steel, and its glass lids, this food steamer has the feel of the late 80's penchant for industrial minimalism, however it is now the 21st century and the design does look dated.
The Morphy Richards "Intellisteam" electric food steamer is a stand alone machine with three steaming areas, allowing ingredients to be cooked separately to reduce cross flavour contamination. Morphy Richards has developed the idea of synchronised cooking, so that a meal's components can all be cooked so they are ready to serve at the same time.
Morphy Richards has achieved this by each steaming area having different its own cooking timer which the user can individually set. while sounding innovative and simple to use, the reality is a little different. Many users found that the procedure was confusing and time consuming.
There are 8 steaming settings already installed in the Morphy Richards "Intellisteam" 470006, from fish and meats through to most types of common vegetables. The settings can be customized, however this proved to be confusing and time consuming and not that easy to do.
The control panel has a centrally positioned liquid crystal display which is surrounded by a bewildering array of little images and buttons making it overly complicated to use, and somewhat "cluttered" in appearance.
Included in the purchase of the Morphy Richards "Intellisteam" 470006 is a full set of "steaming " dishes which include a rice bowl, and steamer tray. Each item including the the large stainless steel steaming vessels are all dishwasher safe, making cleaning easy. However, there is no way of knowing whether the plastic accessory bowls and dishes are BPA free.
Every food steamer must have a water reservoir for it function. Ideally the water tank should be removeable and BPA free. Unfortunately the Morphy Richards 470006's water tank is not removeable. This makes cleaning and descaling the reservoir very difficult to do. However, it does seem that the plastic reservoir is BPA free.
With a 1600W heating element the 470006 is one of the most efficient electric steamers in the review. While some may say that a boil dry alert is nothing more than a gimmick, this feature is this particular steamer's best feature.
While being being somewhat on the bulky side, the Morphy Richards 470006 weighs a surprisingly light 4kg.
The Morphy Richards "Intellisteam" carries a disappointing 1 year warranty.
While coming from a legendary stable of household appliances, the "intellisteam" 470006, is let down by a number of design flaws and appearance. While being a high performing food steamer, it can not be judged to be the best in its field.
The French company Magimix is well known for its quality kitchen appliances. The 11581 Multi-Functional Steamer is no exception.
With a brushed stainless steel finish to both the steaming baskets and accessory dishes, the Magimix 11581 Multi-Functional Steamer has clean lines with a contemporary design.
The two bottom sieved steamer baskets each have a capacity of 5.5 litres which is more than ample to cook a full steamed meal. With all accessories that include rice bowl, skillet egg dishes being made from steel, this Magimix steamer is completely BPA free. It's also worth pointing out that all baskets and accessory dishes are dishwasher friendly.
With a large 1.2 litre capacity water reservoir, the Magimix 11581 steamer is able to cook a complete healthy meal without water replenishment. This food steamer has a 1900W heating element, which is the most powerful, and therefore the most expensive heating element to run.
There are just 4 settings for this steamer, none of which can be altered or over ridden, as well as a digital timer which can be adjusted by 1 minute increments. While some may say that this is refreshingly simple, there will be many that will say that so few settings, the Magimix 11581 is limited with what it can cook.
To ensure that food can always served hot, this Magimix food steamer has a reheat feature as well as an auto shut off function to stop boil dry, as well as ensuring that food is not over cooked.
Despite its very large 12.2 litre cooking capacity, the Magimix 11581 steamer weighs in at just 4.3kg.
The Magimix 11581 "Multi-Function" steamer comes with a 3 year warranty.
Again, while being one of the best food steamers on the market, due to its limitations of its settings, as well as the 1900W heating element used, it is the most expensive cookers in this review to run.
The "Intellisteam" 48775 steamer, unlike its bigger brother, the "Intellisteam" 470006, is an all plastic affair. This Morphy Richards steamer is specifically designed to cook for 1-2 people, and has a capacity of 6 litres.
As is now the norm with almost all food steamers, the 48775 "Intellisteam" includes a rice bowl, drip tray and food container.
With the Morphy Richards 48775 steamer being entirely made of plastic, there was an initial concern about whether BPA was present. Unfortunately there was no PBA free sticker or way to find out whether BPA was used in this steamer's construct. This is also the case with every accessory dish supplied.
Many owners of the "Intellisteam" 48775 observed that while being very lightweight due to its all polycarbonate construction, the steaming baskets are liable to develop stress fractures and cracking especially around the vapour inlets, within the first year or so. which can lead to leaks in some cases.
Unfortunately when cracking happens, the only solution is to purchase another food steamer as Morphy Richards do not sell spare parts.
Again, with all Morphy Richards "Intellisteam" food steamers, the control panel is a digital panel with liquid crystal display, all looking thoroughly hi-tech. However, the digital display is cluttered with a myriad of images, and settings are made with an endless combination of button pushing, which proved to be confusing, frustrating as well as time consuming.
The much hailed Morphy Richards "Intellisteam" smart cooking system again turns out to be just two timers to be set at different times for each steamer section, and really can not be called innovative.
Descaling and cleaning the water reservoir was also found to be extremely awkward with one owner saying "it is a pig to clean". However the other parts of the Morphy Richards "Intellisteam" 48775 proved to be extremely easy to clean as every accessory tray and bowl are dishwasher safe.
With an 1800W heating element the Morphy Richards 48775 is able to cook food with ease and very quickly. However, the amount of steam that it produces means that using the "Intellisteam" 48775 must be done either under a stove's extractor fan or in a well ventilated room.
The Morphy Richards "Intellisteam" 48775 comes with a 1 year warranty that can be extended to 2 years provided the appliance is registered within 28 days of purchase.
While undoubtedly coming from a company with an excellent reputation as far as domestic appliances are concerned, the Morphy Richards "Intellisteam" 48775 food steamer is somewhat disappointing in quality of build as well as performance.
Best known for its non stick cookware, Tefal also manufactures small appliances, and the VC145140 is one of them. This steamer is marketed as a convenience or mini steamer. However, its size implies the complete opposite. The Tefal VC145140 has a capacity of 6L which is more than enough to cook a meal for 3 people.
With a two stainless steel basket stack, this Tefal steamer steams from the base upwards, using a 900W heating element. This is the smallest heating element by far in this review, which would at first glance to be the cheapest appliance to run. However, this is simply not the case.
The Tefal 145140 is grossly under powered. Steam generation is simply not enough to make sure that all the contents of both baskets are adequately cooked, especially when there is a two tier configuration for the steam to travel through.
However, the design of the Tefal VC145140 is well laid out and its use is very easy. There are no settings and no customization options. There is no digital liquid crystal display, or any eye catching gimmickry to be had. It has a simple 60 minute twist dial timer that automatically shuts off when the hour is up. The Tefal VC145140 is quite simply the Citroen 2CV of the steamer world.
The included accessories have been pared to the bone, and consists of one plastic bowl and one under engineered drip tray which has a tendency to leak while in operation. Both of these accessories are made from a polycarbonate plastic and there is no way to find out their BPA content. Moreover, this is true for the Tefal 145140's water reservoir as well.
As per the norm both baskets and accessories are dishwasher proof.
One frequent complaint is that the steam holes in the baskets are too wide and make certain vegetables such as peas and sweetcorn almost impossible to cook in this way.
Weighing in at at just 3.04kg the Tefal 145140 is not only lightweight, but it is also easy to store, as it is able to be stacked in on itself.
The Tefal 145140 is covered with an international 2 year warranty.
As food steamers go, the Tefal 145140 really is a pared down model, and may be what many people will look for. However, its performance was disappointing and the lack information of its PBA content in its plastic reservoir and accessories makes it not to be the best.
The Cuisinart ST1000U was chosen as the best steamer for a number of reasons such as truly innovative design, as well as its economy.
The trend in eating healthy and natural food first came on the scene with the health and fitness fanatics back in the early 1980's. Steamed food cooking is healthier than most cooking styles as it uses no oils or saturated fats, which has been proven to cause cardiovascular disease as well as host of other diseases such as diabetes type 2.
Steamed cooking, while not only retains the true flavour of vegetables, but is also one of the cheapest form of cookery in terms of running costs and savings made by not purchasing oils.
Steamers come in many shapes and forms and so do their features. However, the best steamers will always have real features like overhead cooking, no gimmicks, and real economic value. These features can come in factors such as quality of construct and unique features such as top down cooking, glass cooking vessels etc.
To make sure that the right model is purchased always seriously consider the specific needs, as different steamers cater for different needs.
All modern steamers will use mains electricity. While some steamers have more protective features than others always purchase the models that offer the best protection, even if it is more expensive. Safety instructions should always be read and observed as "electricity and water do not mix".
There has been much reference made in this review to BPA ,a common epoxy compound used in the making of many polycarbonate plastics since the early 1960's .Recent medical research has shown a link between BPA ingestion and cardiovascular diseases, which include high blood pressure, angina, coronary artery heart disease,as well as arrythmia and atherosclerosis.
Further research has also hinted that BPA may be carcinogenic, with possible links to prostate cancer.