Some commonly used cooking spices are kosher salt, black pepper, cinnamon, paprika and cumin. Other spices that are less common but also popular in home kitchens include cayenne pepper, allspice and curry powder.
Kosher salt makes food taste good whether cooking chili or making chocolate mousse. If a dish tastes flat, adding a little salt can bring the flavors alive without making it too salty. Black pepper and cinnamon can add heat and sweetness without overpowering a dish, and cooks can use them in savory and sweet dishes.
Spices such as cloves, cumin and paprika have strong ethnic associations but also liven up hearty American fare, such as pot roasts or braised chicken. Dried bay leaves, oregano and thyme are good to have on hand to use in soups and stews, especially when paired with beans and vegetables. Curry powder is common in home kitchens for everything from chicken salad to lamb stew, while cayenne pepper adds heat to dishes and is useful as a spicy staple in the pantry.
Some other common spices used in baking are nutmeg, allspice and ground ginger. In addition, vanilla is essential to any home baker, especially around the holidays, and it adds a depth of flavor to all kinds of pastries and desserts.