LAS VEGAS — Kelp, cactus and hemp are among the cutting-edge ingredients driving product development in the $170.4 billion specialty food industry. Other emerging trends include keto-friendly formulations and snacks made from mushrooms.

More than 800 exhibiting companies featured new products at the Winter Fancy Food Show, held Feb. 6-8 in Las Vegas. The event marked the Specialty Food Association’s first live trade show in two years.

A prominent theme was comfort foods with a twist, as consumers continue to seek new yet familiar experiences at home amid the ongoing pandemic.

“We’re entering our third year of the pandemic, and hopefully things are stabilizing somewhat, but people have been through the ringer, and one of the ways that is coming out is a resurgence of comfort-type foods,” said Denise Purcell, vice president of content and education for the New York-based Specialty Food Association.

She noted new pasta shapes and ingredients as examples. Several Sardinian pastas are set to debut stateside. A long ribbon pasta is colored with turmeric, spinach, beets and paprika. New York artisan pasta maker Sfoglini showcased its portfolio of products, including beet fusilli, cuttlefish ink spaccatelli, einkorn macaroni, hemp rigatoni, porcini trumpets, whole grain blend radiators and more.

Also on display were pasta sauces infused with regeneratively farmed and harvested seaweed and a pesto sauce featuring foraged sea asparagus.

Ms. Purcell also pointed out many comfort food offerings produced with plant-based ingredients. Bold Palate Foods displayed its non-dairy twist on the perennially popular ranch dressing, made with lemon and dill, tangy cider vinegar and garlic. Spero Foods showed its line of cream cheese-style spreads made from sunflower seeds. Karana sampled dumplings filled with jackfruit. Whoa Dough created a line of plant-based, gluten-free cookie dough bars made with whole grain oat flour and chickpea flour.  

Hemp seeds were highlighted in several new products. Planet Based Foods makes burgers, sausage crumbles and more based on a blend of hemp seeds, pea protein and brown rice.

“Planet Based Foods is on a mission to establish hemp as a nutrient-dense protein source that can feed the world sustainably for generations to come,” said Braelyn Davis, chief executive officer and co-founder, Planet Based Foods. “We see hemp as an untapped natural resource that delivers unmatched nutrition and sustainability benefits and is uniquely suited to thrive in the face of climate change. We believe deeply in the potential for our hemp-based products to play a role in addressing major food system challenges while delighting discerning values-driven customers.”

Hemp Love produces organic, plant-based chocolate with a “hemp seed crunch.” Queen of Hearts Superfoods launched a line of dressings formulated with hemp hearts, hemp seed oil and hemp protein.

“Most dressings are filled with sugar, trans-fat oils, petroleum-based vinegars and other junk ingredients that cause inflammation and poor health outcomes,” said Tonia Farman, co-founder and CEO. “We took our ‘free-from’ focus a step further and blend with only omega-rich cold-pressed oils, integrating the deep flavors and robust nutritional profile of the hemp seed. We also use a proprietary low-heat process that retains the omega-3s and other essential fatty acids and minerals that help support cognitive, cardiovascular and immune health.”

Several brands unveiled coffee and tea innovation. Maury’s Hive Tea is a maker of bagged whole leaf tea mixed with granulated honey. Civilized Coffee produces instant cold-brew coffee and tea powders. A Belgian brand debuted a line of specialty decaf options. Circles Coffee developed a single-serve, round pour-over filter made from compostable materials. Big Heart Tea Co. introduced single-serve stick packs of organic matcha sourced from a family farm in Japan.

A caffeine-free beverage debuting at the show is made from roasted figs and looks and tastes like coffee. Taika exhibited its ready-to-drink, plant-based coffee and tea lattes incorporating a blend of theanine, ashwagandha, lion’s mane, cordyceps and reishi mushrooms to promote calm and clarity. A San Francisco startup introduced a powdered golden milk latte mix made with turmeric, ashwagandha, spices, coconut milk and maple sugar.

Plenty of items on display cater to consumer demand for global flavors. Saba’s Sauces celebrates Eritrean and Ethiopian flavors, and Pretty Thai presented its range of sauces including Thai Peanut, Muay Thai, Pat Thai, and Tiger Smirk, described as “tangy lime with a hint of savory roasted garlic.” Khalsa Salsa combines Indian spices and Mexican salsa ingredients. Sibeiho showed its assortment of Singaporean sambal chili paste. A line of bottled Caribbean-inspired condiments includes island curry sauce and barbecue jerk sauce with scotch bonnet chili flakes.

Sideaway Foods offers globally inspired side dishes packaged in microwavable pouches. Varieties include Moroccan Tagine, Cuban Black Beans and Spicy Thai Rooster, among others. Icelandic snacks spotted at the show included crunchy skyr bites and a blend of dried fish fillets and potato chips. Also seen were South African shortbread cookies baked with rooibos and honeybush tea.

A number of exhibitors provided solutions to reduce waste. Incredible Eats featured its line of flavored edible cutlery, including new straws and sporks made with wheat, corn, oats, brown rice and chickpeas. Wyke Farms unveiled a carbon-neutral cheddar, produced to minimize waste and packaging, recover heat, filter and reuse wastewater and reduce carbon emissions.

Vine to Bar produces dark chocolate made with chardonnay marc, a nutrient-rich, naturally sweet byproduct of winemaking. Riff is a sparkling energy beverage made with cascara, part of the coffee fruit that is typically discarded.

“Food waste is still really on the minds of consumers,” Ms. Purcell said. “We’re expecting to see more products using upcycled ingredients.”

Other intriguing products spotted at the Winter Fancy Food Show include freeze-dried gummy bears, a low-carb, high-protein bagel, booze-infused cookies and salted egg yolk snacks. Nopales, the spiky pads of the cactus plant, so revered in Mexican culture that one appears on the country’s flag as a symbol of resilience, was a key ingredient in tortilla chips and crunchy snacks on display. A sustainable crop, the nopales cactus thrives in hot, dry climates and provides fiber and antioxidants.