I know that a lot of people don’t do yogurt – I know I surely didn’t – but in all seriousness… sometimes, you have to know how to use an ingredient in order to get the most out of it. And really, greek yogurt offers a lot, and it’s kinda crazy to not take advantage of it.

So… what is greek yogurt?

Ohio State University nutritionist Julie Kennel Shertzer explained to me that both Greek- and American-style yogurt are made by fermenting milk with live bacteria cultures—the only difference is that Greek yogurt is strained to remove the liquid whey, hence its thicker consistency. Both are nutritional superstars: They’re excellent sources of calcium and good sources of protein, their bacteria cultures aid digestion, and the unsweetened low- and nonfat varieties are low in calories. But according to Shertzer, Greek yogurt does have a few nutritional advantages over regular yogurt: “Since it’s a more concentrated product, it packs a few more grams of protein per serving,” she says. It’s also a bit lower in sugar and carbohydrates, since lactose, a form of sugar present in all dairy products, is removed with the whey. [source]

Now, I’ve got to admit… eating yogurt by itself? It’s a little bit of a struggle for me. It reminds me too much of just eating sour cream or something. However… today, we’re going to change that. Listed below, are my five favorite uses for greek yogurt. Bon appetit!

1) Salad dressing. That’s right – use your greek yogurt in this quick little recipe for homemade flavorful ranch dressing, and not only cut calories but add a little extra tang to it without any added salt:

about 1/3 cup of parsley
2 tablespoons of finely chopped green onions (chopped however finely you’d prefer it in your dressing)
1/3 teaspoon of black pepper
1 cup of fage 0% yogurt
at least 1/2 cup of buttermilk, maybe more depending upon how thick you want your dressing.
2 teaspoons of minced garlic
1 teaspoon of cream cheese
1 tablespoon of finely chopped onion

Toss everything into a bowl. Stir generously. Taste your ranch. Do a happy dance.

2) Have pollen allergies? Eat your yogurt with honey. I know that for me personally, if there’s one thing I used to dread, it was spring time. All sneeze everything. The good thing about it is the fact that there’s an easy and natural fix for it.

At my farmer’s market, is an elderly woman who has more locally collected honey than she knows what to do with. One bottle of locally collected wildflower honey, at a tablespoon a day, is a win for me. Stir it into some greek yogurt and sure enough, I’ve got a pretty delicious and amazing snack that has plenty of protein and protects me from my horrid, horrid allergies. How does it work?

The idea behind eating honey is kind of like gradually vaccinating the body against allergens, a process called immunotherapy. Honey contains a variety of the same pollen spores that give allergy sufferers so much trouble when flowers and grasses are in bloom. Introducing these spores into the body in small amounts by eating honey should make the body accustomed to their presence and decrease the chance an immune system response like the release of histamine will occur [source: AAFP]. Since the concentration of pollen spores found in honey is low — compared to, say, sniffing a flower directly — then the production of antibodies shouldn’t trigger symptoms similar to an allergic reaction. Ideally, the honey-eater won’t have any reaction at all.

As innocuous as honey seems, it can actually pose health risks in some cases. Honey proponents warn that there is a potential for an allergic reaction to it. And since honey can contain bacteria that can cause infant botulism, health officials warn that children under 12 months of age whose immune systems haven’t fully developed shouldn’t eat honey at all [source: Mayo Clinic].

If a regimen is undertaken, however, local honey is generally accepted as the best variety to use. Local honey is produced by bees usually within a few miles of where the person eating the honey lives. There’s no real rule of thumb on how local the honey has to be, but proponents suggest the closer, the better [source: Ogren]. This proximity increases the chances that the varieties of flowering plants and grasses giving the allergy sufferer trouble are the same kinds the bees are including in the honey they produce. After all, it wouldn’t help much if you ate honey with spores from a type of grass that grows in Michigan if you suffer from allergies in Georgia. [source]

3) Make your own veggie dip. Instead of dipping your baby carrots in that unidentifiable ranch-like substance in the package, why not buy one large bag of baby carrots and use a little greek yogurt to make yourself a dip? Chop up a third of a cup of parsley, blend it into a cup of greek yogurt, and you’ve got a super-filling snack for well under 300 calories. Add basil, cracked red pepper and parmesan, and you’ve got another yummy dip. Shoot – chop fresh spinach, red pepper chunks, oregano and parmesan together in a big bowl of greek yogurt, and you’ve got an awesome almost-raw spinach dip. Blend it in with salsa and get a thicker dip for tortillas!

4) Can’t leave out you meat eaters! Use greek yogurt as a marinade. Bake some chicken until it’s almost done. Blend 1 cup of greek yogurt with 1 tbsp garam masala, 2tsp ground cumin and 2 tsp chili powder. Squeeze the juice from one lime over the top, and blend in some minced garlic. Pull your chicken out and coat it generously with the greek yogurt. Slide it back in the oven and broil it. Before you know it? Boom – tandoori chicken. Alabama white barbecue sauce? Yep. Use greek yogurt instead of mayo.

5) Swap out the sour cream… or the mayo… or the… whatever. No, really. Two tablespoons of sour cream has more calories than TEN tablespoons of greek yogurt. Top your nachos and enchiladas with greek yogurt blended with a little cilantro. Put it on your tacos underneath your pico de gallo. In my potato salad and chicken salad recipes, I use greek yogurt instead of mayo. Lots of options, here!

For me, some of these recipes and suggestions are beneficial in cutting calories. In other ways, they’re also a really awesome way to switch up ingredients simply for the sake of flavor. One of the awesome things about learning how to cook is the ability to swap out traditional ingredients for ones that are new to my kitchen, and discovering what new possibilities that opens up for me.

Now, my personal favorite is Fage 0% fat free yogurt. And while I typically rail against fat free food products because they’re made fat free by way of chemicals, added sugars or some other dastardly manipulation…. this one’s different – 0mg salt, 0g sugar, and it’s made fat free because they don’t use whole milk in the process. They use skim milk, which is regular milk with all the fat skimmed out the top (hence the name “skim” milk.) 20g of protein in each serving, and I’m in there like swimwear.

What do you do with your greek yogurt?