The Safer, Faster Way to Bring the Heat
Louisiana Pepper Exchange continues to revolutionize the industry
A native New Orleanian, Poppy Tooker has spent her life devoted to the cultural essence that food brings to Louisiana, a topic she explores weekly on her NPR-affiliated radio show, Louisiana Eats! From farmers markets to the homes and restaurants where our culinary traditions are revered and renewed, Poppy lends the voice of an insider to interested readers everywhere.
American tongues are on fire in an ever-increasing search for hot peppers, and it turns out those pepper heads also have a bit of a masochistic streak. Humans’ taste experience of spiciness actually occurs through the activation of pain receptors on the tongue. That jolt results in a spontaneous release of endorphins that simultaneously flood the human body with pleasure, an experience many find addictive.
At the tender age of 7, Chris White’s daughter, Arrington, has quite a pepper habit already.
“She puts cayenne on everything – from breakfast through dinner!” he said. Luckily, Arrington’s father owns Louisiana Pepper Exchange, a vertically integrated pepper company located on Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans.
The path to White’s pepper passion was paved with military precision. Equipped with an engineering degree from West Point, after completing his U.S. Army service he joined Chemtec, the business his father founded in 1982. Originally based in Baton Rouge, Chemtec specializes in highly engineered processing equipment used mostly in oil, gas and chemical industries. White’s original role at Chemtec was business development, which is how a conversation began with Tabasco in 2001.
That Louisiana-based pepper sauce giant was in search of more cost-effective ways to ship huge quantities of pepper mash grown across South and Central America for use in Tabasco’s production. They had an ongoing issue with the mash separating during transport, which made it extremely difficult to pump out the flexi-tanks in use at that time.
White’s special skill in problem solving through value-added engineering resulted three years later in a new agitation system, incorporated into a single-use, food-grade polyethylene bladder capable of holding 52,000 pounds of pepper mash. The new “agi-tank” rolled easily into a sea container for transport, arriving in a homogenous state, facilitating a smooth pumping process at its final destination.
White patented the agi-tank design in 2004. He credits Tabasco’s vision and business acumen for implementing the new process.
“They’re a great, smart group of people to work with. Our business relationship today remains as strong as ever.”
In 2010 White founded Louisiana Pepper Exchange. Sourcing pepper varieties from small farmers across Mexico and Central and South America using his patented transport method, he located the new business a mere 20 yards from the Port of New Orleans.
More than 20 varieties of peppers totaling 3 million pounds of mash a year are available anytime in the 25,000-square-foot facility, The company offers total traceability from farm to kitchen to ensure maximum consistency in their mash, purées and powders.
Additionally, Louisiana Pepper Exchange employs an in-house culinary and beverage development team offering turnkey solutions via co-packing and private labeling to food service businesses large and small. Last Halloween, Dunkin Brands worked directly with Louisiana Pepper Exchange to perfect the spicy strawberry frosting used in their Ghost Pepper Donut. The limited offering became an internet sensation and flew out of stores nationwide.
In August 2020, the home cook became the company’s new focus with the retail introduction of their most popular pepper purées in convenient, 4-ounce jars. From the relatively tame jalapeno, chipotle and cayenne, to the hot-as-hell red and orange habanero and ghost pepper, the company prides itself on convenience and ease of use of their purées.
Now, instead of the unpleasant and often dangerous process of handling fresh, hot peppers, a spoonful of purée adds the desired flavor and heat to any dish or drink. Purée also has a distinct taste advantage over powdered peppers like the commonly used cayenne, as the true pepper flavor is found in the water-soluble components lost during the drying process. This entirely unique product has found a welcome reception in grocery stores across the Gulf South where it can be found in the produce department next to the familiar garlic purée.
Chris White says Louisiana is in the company’s name for a reason. He believes in the community where he chooses to raise his five children. White said he’s proud that the fledgling new business employs close to 40 full-time local workers, many of them veterans like himself. Louisiana is on fire, and White has the peppers to prove it!
Catch Poppy Tooker on her radio show, “Louisiana Eats!” Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m. on WWNO 89.9 FM.