Why Does Emily Mariko Put An Ice Cube In Her Rice?

The viral TikTok recipe presents an intriguing method for reheating food in the microwave.

Move over, baked feta pasta and hot cocoa bombs. There’s a new viral TikTok recipe on the scene.

Lifestyle vlogger Emily Mariko’s salmon rice bowl is the latest culinary sensation on the video-sharing app. The dish combines leftover salmon, leftover white rice, kimchi, Kewpie mayonnaise, Sriracha, soy sauce, avocado and dried seaweed.

Mariko’s TikTok post from Sept. 21 ― captioned “Best lunch of the week!” ― had nearly 50 million views as of Friday morning.

Countless users have shared their takes on the recipe with the hashtag #salmonricebowl, which had more than 23 million views. Additionally, Instacart reported that orders containing both salmon and dried seaweed doubled the usual number as of Sept. 29, one week after Mariko shared her recipe on TikTok.

“Salmon and dried seaweed are not historically a common pairing on Instacart, so there’s no question the recent growth of these two items is a direct result of this latest TikTok trend,” Instacart trends expert Laurentia Romaniuk said.

While the ingredient combination makes for a delicious and relatively healthy meal, it’s the preparation that has people particularly intrigued ― specifically, the way Mariko reheats the rice.

The vlogger places the leftover white rice on top of the leftover salmon, adds an ice cube on top, and then covers everything with a piece of waxed paper before putting it in the microwave. When she removes the plate from the microwave, she tosses the still-formed ice cube and proceeds to add her recipe’s other ingredients.

Mariko's ice cube technique is getting attention.
Emily Mariko/TikTok
Mariko's ice cube technique is getting attention.

For many viewers, the fact that the ice doesn’t melt seems like utter witchcraft, and it’s hard to believe steaming food could be so easy. But it turns out it all comes down to ― science!

Christopher Arturo, chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education (aptly acronymed ICE), told HuffPost that he was not familiar with the ice cube technique specifically. But what Mariko does, he said, mimics a more commonly used method for reheating rice ― putting a little water on top, covering and then microwaving.

“Over time, rice dries out and the exterior can be crunchy, almost hard,” Arturo explained. “Putting the ice cube and cover on top before microwaving creates steam, which will fully reheat the food.”

He continued: “The ice cube gives something for the microwave to heat, and the steam will diffuse all the way through the food ― so you don’t end up with half the food still cold. Steam is a penetrative form of heat ― it heats fully, evenly and all the way through. The parchment paper lid also helps to hold in the heat. Steam goes up, hits the parchment paper and hot liquid goes down to reheat the food. If Emily microwaved the food for a longer amount of time, the ice cube would melt fully.”

Indeed, that’s what happened. I conducted a highly unscientific experiment at home with a small ice cube on a paper towel and found it took about one minute and 40 seconds in the microwave to completely melt. Ice doesn’t melt in the microwave as quickly as you would think.

That’s because the water molecules in ice are locked in position in a rigid crystal structure, and the hydrogen bonds that keep them together are quite strong. So, the water molecules don’t absorb much energy from the microwave and therefore don’t vibrate and produce heat quickly the way liquid water does.

What does happen, however, is that the tiny amount of water on the surface of the ice quickly turns into steam to help reheat the food.

Following the viral success of Mariko’s salmon rice video, TikTok creators have been experimenting with the ice technique on a variety of foods. On Sept. 29, singer Lizzo posted a video in which she reheats a cupcake in the microwave with an ice cube on top (though Food Network recipe developer Amanda Neal noted that the trick doesn’t really work as well for already-moist food items).

But heck ― don’t knock it until you try it, we suppose.

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