How boring would food be with only salt and pepper? Thanks to McCormick (NYSE:MKC), the world's largest spice maker, we'll never have to know. The firm, whose sauces, flavorings, marinades, seasonings, and extracts add zest to bland entrees everywhere, has cooked up another tasty quarter. Excluding a one-time gain from discontinued operations recorded last year, third-quarter earnings jumped 18% to $0.33, or $46.2 million, a penny better than estimates. Sales rose 10% to $613.5 million.

McCormick's products line the shelves of grocers such as Kroger (NYSE:KR), Albertson's (NYSE:ABS), and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) (in fact, each of the top 20 supermarket chains), and consumer business revenues jumped 12% to $303.2 million. The gain was fueled by stronger volume, as well as higher pricing and favorable currency translation. A higher-margin product mix and cost containment efforts helped operating margins expand 200 basis points to 18.7%, lifting operating income 25% to $56.7 million.

Last year's acquisition of Zatarain's has been a strong addition to the McCormick lineup. Sales of the ready-made mixes with a New Orleans flair rose 23%. I can attest to Zatarain's popularity, as my own pantry is stocked with their gumbo, dirty rice, and jambalaya mixes.

Revenues in the industrial segment, which include sales of seasonings, coatings, and condiments to restaurant chains and other distributors, rose 9% to $310.3 million. Sales of snack seasonings and new products to fast-food restaurants were cited as particularly strong. As on the consumer side, cost reduction and a shift in product mix helped improve margins, driving operating income 12% higher to $31.2 million.

International operations, which constitute roughly one-third of consumer sales and one-fourth of industrial sales, were weak. In Europe, where competition is more of a factor, consumer sales would have grown less than 1% without the aid of currency fluctuations, and industrial sales would have declined. In the Asia/Pacific region, both consumer and industrial sales fell on a constant dollar basis.

Prior assertions that McCormick is overpriced still ring true today as the company trades at nearly 20 times future earnings, with an enterprise value-to-free cash flow ratio of 31 and a PEG ratio of 2.2. However, the company has already generated $109 million in free cash flow this year, which is well ahead of last year's pace, most of which is slated for share repurchases. Furthermore, the company has very little competitive pressure stateside, is improving margins, and has raised dividends for 16 consecutive years. Throw in a few smart acquisitions and a dash of organic growth, and the recipe begins to sound more enticing.

Which spice is your favorite: parsley, sage, rosemary, or thyme? Discuss your preferred herbs and seasonings on the Fool's Recipes/Cooking discussion board.

Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter owns nearly every spice imaginable but none of the shares mentioned.