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a pitcher half full milky-looking bright yellow homemade Italian limoncello next to a bottle of homemade limoncello and a fresh lemon on a red and white striped pot holder

How to Make Easy Homemade Limoncello (The Italian Way)

This homemade limoncello recipe is the best of Italian summer in a bottle — it’s smooth and sweet with an intense lemon flavor without a hint of sour or bitter notes. And with just 3 simple ingredients (and a little time and patience), it couldn’t be easier to make at home. Plus, if you’re planning to make this a sober January (because you drank and celebrated your way through the holidays), it’s the perfect time to settle in and start your limoncello now because this recipe takes around anywhere from 30 to 50 days to cure and then rests another month after it’s been sweetened and bottled — it’s definitely worth the wait.

In 2014, I was given a homemade limoncello recipe from Franco (L’s sister’s father-in-law) (in photos below). His limoncello is delicious but very sweet so I knew when I eventually made my own, I would add less sugar. I put this project on the back burner until this past summer when we visited L’s family in Abruzzo. After a delicious dinner (they make THE BEST FOOD!) his cousin Rosi brought out her homemade limoncello and Ratafià di amarena (a local Abruzzese cherry-based liqueur made from amarena cherries and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine…also amazing).

The limoncello was perfectly sweet and smooth and we loved it! The Ratafià was sweet, and just a little tart with an intense cherry flavor. She graciously sent us home with a bottle of each (photo below). Rosi shared her ingredient measurements which I’ve used as inspiration for this limoncello recipe and although my recipe varies slightly from hers, she deserves all the credit for this one — it’s balanced, smooth, perfectly cloudy, not too sweet, and super lemony just the way we like it.

What is Limoncello (or Limoncino)?

Limoncello is a lemon-flavored Italian liqueur usually enjoyed as an after-dinner drink (digestivo) to help aid digestion, but it can also be enjoyed as a dessert (poured over ice cream) or to prepare desserts. It is one of the easiest Italian recipes you’ll ever make, but it takes time so you’ll need to plan ahead if you want a better-than-average homemade limoncello you can serve at your next dinner party. Limoncello comes from southern Italy (the Amalfi Coast area) whereas, limoncino comes from the northern area around the Cinque Terre and Positano.

Limoncino is made from the exact same ingredients as limoncello but comes from the northern coastal area near the Cinque Terre and Positano and is left to steep (cure) for just around 7 days which renders the final flavor and texture a bit lighter. 

Why We Love This Homemade Limoncello Recipe

  • It’s simple to make and takes about 20 minutes to prepare
  • You can adjust the alcohol content to suit your preferences
  • You can decide just how sweet or not sweet you want to make it
  • It uses extra lemons for an even more lemony flavor
  • Makes a perfect gift for the holidays
  • Can be used to make desserts or cocktails (like adult lemonade)
  • Use the leftover juice to make lemon curd or homemade lemonade
  • It uses organic Italian lemons (but any good regular organic lemons or organic Meyer lemons work perfectly)

Where Does Limoncello Come From?

Limoncello comes from the area known as the Sorrento Peninsula and the island of Capri which is a stunning place to visit. It’s a small region with a geographically protected status (IGP). And although there is some debate about which town limoncello was first made in, we know it’s at least been made here for over 100 years. It wasn’t trademarked until 1988 by Massimo Canale (who says it was an homage to his grandmother who used to make it).

What is Limoncello Made From (what kind of alcohol is in limoncello)?

Limoncello is made from lemon peels, sugar, water, and flavorless, odorless 90-95% (ABV 56 to 64 proof) pure rectified alcohol (so as not to impart any flavor the way a vodka might (and also so it doesn’t freeze when you chill it in the freezer).

Only the peels or zest are used and careful attention is paid to not including any pith (the white part) which ensures it’s a very smooth and never bitter liqueur. However, if pure grain alcohol is not available to you (like Everclear 151-proof) then the next best thing to that would be a high-quality vodka. Just know that it won’t taste the same because vodka has its own distinct flavor and the lower alcohol content means it needs longer to extract the oils from the lemon peels. The alcohol percentage in finished limoncello is usually anywhere between 20% and 35% alcohol.

 

What Kind of Lemons is Limoncello Made From?

Limoncello in Italy is made using native Sorrento lemons (or “Citrus Limon”) belonging to the “Rutaceae” family. They’re extremely fragrant with a bright distinct flavor (not unlike the Femminello Santa Teresa lemons grown in Sicily) from being grown on terraced coastal mountains which gives them abundant sunlight and unique soil and growing conditions. These lemons have characteristically thick rinds and are usually large. Sorrento lemons go by many different names depending on which region they’re grown in, but true Sorrento lemons are cultivated only within the small IGP (internationally protected geographic area) region of the Sorrento Peninsula and the island of Capri. Below are some of the names they go by:

  • Limone di Sorrento
  • Massese Limoni
  • Ovale di Sorrento
  • Massa Lubrense lemons
  • Massa Lemons
  • Limone di Massa Lubrense
  • Sfusato Amalfitano

How is Limoncello Meant to Be Drunk?

Limoncello is served very cold (often kept in the freezer or refrigerator) and is sipped on and enjoyed after a nice dinner — it’s never taken as a shot or gulped down (unless you’re crazy). Instead, it’s meant to be savored.

Is Limoncello High in Alcohol?

Limoncello is typically high in alcohol with an ABV of 56 to 64 proof. So if you’re wondering  “Does limoncello get you drunk?”, technically yes, it could if you drank too much of it. This is not a drink that’s meant to be consumed in large quantities. Instead, a 1/2 ounce is just about right (that’s about half of a shot glass full). If you happen to love this liqueur’s lemony flavor, but find it to be too alcoholic (even when sipping), make your own homemade limoncello and adjust it to your liking. This allows you to adjust the alcohol content and the level of sweetness you prefer.

Why is My Limoncello Bitter? 

Limoncello is made using the peels of lemons (the yellow part that contains all of the fragrant natural oil of the lemon). Care must be taken when removing the zest or the peels to avoid also removing any of the bitter pith (the white part just under the skin of the lemon. If too much pith is left on the peels when you add them to the alcohol to cure limoncello, it will infuse it with bitter notes. You’ll still be able to drink it, but it won’t be as smooth or enjoyable.

3 Homemade Limoncellos at a Glance

Not all limoncello looks the same and that depends on a few factors (see photos above) — such as, how many lemons you use, whether or not you zest the lemons or peel them, how long you let them steep with the alcohol before adding the simple syrup, how much simple syrup you add, and the ratio of sugar to water you use to make the simple syrup.

Regardless of all of these factors, limoncello should be a bit (or a lot) cloudy with this happening just after you add the simple syrup. It goes from crystal clear bright yellow to a cloudy color instantly (even looking milky as it doesn in this recipe).

Why You Should Use Organic Lemons to Make Homemade Limoncello

When making homemade limoncello, the zest and/or peels of the lemons are added to the alcohol and left to cure (steep) for a period of a few weeks and up to a month or more. During this curing time, the alcohol is pulling every single element from the lemon peels and it’s being infused into the alcohol. This means that if you use regular lemons from the grocery store, not only will the wax that these lemons are treated with end up in your final liqueur, but you’ll also be drinking the pesticides that the lemons were sprayed with. Seek out organic lemons when making homemade limoncello to avoid having wax or pesticides in your finished liqueur — it’s worth it.

Homemade Limoncello Ingredients

  • organic lemon peels/zest (i.e. Sorrento lemons (Citrus Limone), Sicilian Femminello Santa Teresa lemons, Meyer lemons, Lisbon or Eureka lemons, OR just regular organic lemons from the grocery store hard skins so you can easily peel and zest them)
  • 90-95% (ABV 56 to 64 proof) pure rectified alcohol) (sub Everclear (or 151-proof pure grain alcohol that’s 75.5% alcohol by volume or ABV), or as a last resort, use a high-quality vodka but this really isn’t limoncello)*
  • granulated sugar
  • water

*Finding 90-95% pure rectified alcohol can be difficult to find and is even illegal in some places. As a last resort, you may use high-quality vodka which can be found just about everywhere. If you’re using vodka it will produce a great-tasting lemon spirit but it won’t taste like Italian limoncello.

How to Make the Best Homemade Italian Limoncello 

Making limoncello at home means you can make your own adjustments like increasing or decreasing the amount of sugar or adding more water to make it less alcoholic. You can also decide how long to cure the lemon peels in the alcohol but a good place to start is at least 30 days (this recipe goes even longer). And once you’ve strained the peels and added the simple syrup you can either chill it and drink it right away or wait the recommended 30 days. Making your own means you get to decide.

  1. Zest & Peel the lemons. Wash the lemons well under warm water and dry with a clean towel. Zest 7 lemons using a microplane and peel the remaining 3 lemons being sure not to include any pith (the white bitter part). If you see any pith on the peels, remove it by using a small sharp paring knife to scrape or cut it away.
  2. Cure the lemon zest/peels in alcohol. Add the zest and peels to a large glass jar, add the alcohol and allow to cure (steep) for 51 days (or at least 30 days). Give the jar a shake every day or every other day.
  3. Make the simple syrup. Add the sugar and water to a small pot and heat it over medium stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  4. Combine the infused alcohol with simple syrup. Using a fine mesh strainer (or coffee filter or cheesecloth), strain the zest and the peels from the infused alcohol and discard (or reserve them to make limoncello sugar). In a large clean jar or pitcher, combine the alcohol and the simple syrup and stir well. *See recipe notes for how to adjust the limoncello for sweetness or to have a less alcoholic limoncello.

How to Make Homemade Limoncello step-by-step recipe photos

Ways to Customize Homemade Limoncello

  • Add the seeds from one vanilla bean to the simple syrup for vanilla limoncello
  • Add a few pinches of cinnamon to the simple syrup to make cinnamon-limoncello
  • Use oranges, or bergamots instead of lemons
  • Make it sweeter or less alcoholic
  • Add freshly squeezed lemon juice to make it tart (it won’t technically be limoncello, but it’ll taste really good!)

Ways to Use Dicarded Lemon Peels

Make Limoncello Sugar (in photo above)

You can use the leftover lemon peels or zest to make limoncello sugar. In my homemade Sicilian Lemon Sugar post, I add the zest of 3 to 6 fresh lemons to 1 cup of sugar for a brightly flavored sugar.

  1. When you make homemade limoncello, instead of discarding the leftover lemon peels add them to 1 cup of sugar (or your desired ratio of sugar). Place the mixture into a glass jar, seal it, and store it in a cool dark cupboard to “cure” for at least a couple of weeks.
  2. For the first week, stir the sugar mixture about every other day.

Pro Tip: Add the zest from at least one fresh lemon along with the spent limoncello peels which contain fragrant oils to help brighten up the flavor of the limoncello sugar if desired.

Looking For More Easy Italian Recipes

Enjoy your homemade limoncello after dinner with any of these delicious Italian recipes!

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a pitcher half full milky-looking bright yellow homemade Italian limoncello next to a bottle of homemade limoncello and a fresh lemon on a red and white striped pot holder

How to Make Homemade Limoncello (The Italian Way)


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  • Author: Kelly
  • Total Time: 0 hours
  • Yield: 2 Liters
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

This homemade limoncello recipe is like a bright Italian summer in a bottle — it’s smooth and sweet with an intense lemon flavor without a hint of sour or bitter notes. And with just 3 simple ingredients (and a little time and patience), it couldn’t be easier to make at home. Plus, if you’re planning to make this a sober January (because you drank and celebrated your way through the holidays), it’s the perfect time to settle in and start your limoncello now because this recipe takes 51 days to cure and then rests another month after it’s been sweetened up and bottled — and it’s definitely worth the wait.  


Ingredients

  • 10 organic lemons
  • 17 ounces 90-95% (ABV 56 to 64 proof) pure rectified alcohol) (500 ml)(sub Everclear or 151-proof pure grain alcohol that’s 75.5% alcohol by volume or ABV), or as a last resort, use a high-quality vodka but this really isn’t limoncello)*
  • 10 5/8 ounces granulated sugar (300g)
  • 32 ounces water (1 liter)


Instructions

  1. Zest & Peel the lemons. Wash the lemons well under warm water and dry with a clean towel. Zest 7 lemons using a microplane and peel the remaining 3 lemons being sure not to include any pith (the white bitter part). If you see any pith on the peels, remove it by using a small sharp paring knife to scrape or cut it away. 
  2. Cure the lemon zest/peels in alcohol. Add the zest and peels to a large glass jar, add the alcohol and allow to cure (steep) for 51 days (or at least 30 days). Give the jar a shake every day or every other day. 
  3. Make the simple syrup. Add the sugar and water to a small pot and heat it over medium stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. 
  4. Combine the infused alcohol with simple syrup. Using a fine mesh strainer (or coffee filter or cheesecloth), strain the zest and the peels from the infused alcohol and discard (or reserve them to make limoncello sugar). In a large clean jar or pitcher, combine the alcohol and the simple syrup and stir well. *See recipe notes for how to adjust the limoncello for sweetness or to have a less alcoholic limoncello.

Notes

  • I used mineral water, but you can use filtered or regular tap water as well.
  • I ended up using 1 1/2 ounces (43 grams) of lemon zest and peels just to give you an idea of how much lemon zest and peels should be added per 500ml (17 ounces) of alcohol.
  • Avoid a bitter limoncello by making sure you remove all of the white part (the pith) from the peels. Or use a Microplane to zest the lemons and avoid any pith at all which ensures a smooth non-bitter limoncello.
  • Most recipes call for peeling the lemons, but I prefer to zest the majority of them to avoid any bitterness, and also to release the oils right from the start which I think helps jumpstart the curing process.
  • Do not add sugar directly to the limoncello because it will never dissolve. If you decide you want a sweeter limoncello after you’ve already added all of the simple syrup, just mix up a little more simple syrup using a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water (sugar 2 : water 1). This will make it sweeter without diluting the alcohol too much. Just be sure to record any additions so you’ll have the measurements the next time you make limoncello.
  • If you’d like a less alcoholic limoncello, you can achieve this two ways: simply add additional water to taste (this will also dilute the sweetness), or if you want to maintain the sweetness, but want a less alcoholic taste, add additional simple syrup made with a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water. Just be sure to record any additions so you’ll have the measurements the next time you make limoncello.
  • Be sure to give the lemons and alcohol a shake every day or every other day. This is less important if you’re using pure grain alcohol, but really important if you’re substituting vodka.
  • Technically the limoncello is delicious and ready to drink on Day 51 just after you’ve finished it and chilled it, but if you let it go for 30 more days, it gets even better.
  • This is a great recipe to make and give as gifts for the holidays like Easter, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. Just be sure to plan 2 to 3 months ahead so it’s ready when you want to gift it.
  • Use Sorrento lemons (Citrus Limone), Sicilian Femminello Santa Teresa Lemons, Meyer lemons, or Lisbon or Eureka lemons, OR just regular organic lemons from the grocery store with hard skins so you can easily peel and zest them.

Ways to Customize Homemade Limoncello

  • Add the seeds from one vanilla bean to the simple syrup for vanilla limoncello
  • Add a few pinches of cinnamon to the simple syrup to make cinnamon-limoncello
  • Use oranges, or bergamots instead of lemons
  • Make it sweeter or less alcoholic 
  • Add freshly squeezed lemon juice to make it tart (it won’t technically be limoncello, but it’ll taste really good!)

Ways to Use Dicarded Lemon Peels

Make Limoncello Sugar

You can use the leftover lemon peels or zest to make limoncello sugar. In my homemade Sicilian Lemon Sugar post, I add the zest of 3 to 6 fresh lemons to 1 cup of sugar for a brightly flavored sugar.

  1. When you make homemade limoncello, instead of discarding the leftover lemon peels add them to 1 cup of sugar (or your desired ratio of sugar). Place the mixture into a glass jar, seal it, and store it in a cool dark cupboard to “cure” for at least a couple of weeks.
  2. For the first week, stir the sugar mixture about every other day.

Pro Tip: Add the zest from at least one fresh lemon along with the spent limoncello peels which contain fragrant oils to help brighten up the flavor of the limoncello sugar if desired.

 

 

  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Steeping Time:
  • Cook Time: 0 miutes
  • Category: Cocktails & Drinks
  • Method: Mix & Stir
  • Cuisine: Italian

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1/2 ounce
Recipe Card powered byTasty Recipes

 

2 Comments

  1. Grandma Jeanne

    You mention limoncello sugar in this recipe, but I can’t seem to find how to make it. Can you post directions for how to make limoncello sugar?

    • Hi Grandma Jeanne, first of all, I love your user name🤗❤️! Thanks for your question and for pointing out that I missed adding my photo and how-to instructions. I’ve updated the post and recipe card notes to include the instructions for how to make limoncello sugar. There’s a photo in the main post. I left all of my zested lemon in the sugar recipe, but I did not crumble the peels. Instead, I like to leave them whole and fish them out of the way when I use the sugar in a recipe. I just don’t like to waste a single thing and I try to repurpose everything! Now, if you’re not planning on making homemade limoncello, just hop over to my Sicilian lemon sugar post (I placed the link in the recipe notes) and make homemade lemon sugar instead (this post needs a major update but you will at least see the process and recipe:). I make all kinds of flavored sugars, usually out of things that would otherwise be discarded. I hope this helps!

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