How to Make Homemade Limoncello Recipe

  • by Nonna Box April 24, 2020
  • |
  • Last Updated on May 8, 2022
Homemade limoncello recipe

When you think of the tastes of Italy, your mind probably zooms to world famous pasta dishes like pasta Bolognese. Yet Italy is also famous for its lemons, and for the sweet and zesty limoncello or limoncino made from them. Never had limoncello? Now’s your chance!

What is Limoncello?

Limoncello – referred to in northern Italy more often as limoncino – is a lemon liqueur that originated in southern Italy, especially along the coast of Amalfi. A liqueur combines alcohol (usually a grain or neutral, i.e. tasteless, spirit) with flavorings such as fruits, herbs or other aromatics. It’s also often sweetened, usually with sugar, and limoncello is no different.

The traditional limoncello recipe call for nothing more than lemon zest, neutral spirits and a simple syrup. Uncomplicated enough to make at home, delicious enough to serve to guests.

Where is limoncello from?

Origin tales differ greatly as to how limoncello came about, but there is no doubt that it emerged from southern Italy and surrounding regions about one hundred years ago. It’s traditionally made strictly from the Sorrento lemons that grow exclusively along the Amalfi coast. Of course you can use any lemons available to you, and Meyer lemons especially provide an excellent substitution.

How to make Limoncello at home

how to make homemade limoncello

Limoncello is actually quite easy to make from home. And you only need four ingredients: lemons, alcohol, water and sugar. Tradition calls, of course, for those Sorrento lemons first and foremost, but if you are in the US you can replace them with Meyer lemons. You’ll also need to find a strong grain alcohol, such as Everclear, which you’ll later dilute with the simple syrup.

Simple syrup is just equal parts sugar and water heated until the sugar dissolves. Diluting the alcohol is an important step. The alcohol content needs to be high enough to prevent your limoncello from freezing (the drink is traditionally stored in the freezer and served in ice-cold glasses), but not so high you fall over!

The lemons are steeped in the alcohol, generally for at least two weeks, though longer is also fine. The alcohol is then strained to remove the peels and diluted with the simple syrup. After a little more resting time, the limoncello is ready to be enjoyed on its own, in a cocktail or added to another recipe.

Because limocello is so easy and popular to make at home, there are many versions and treasured family recipes that each have slight variations or substitutions. Some adapt the recipe to use cantaloupes, strawberries or milk.

And why is Limoncello cloudy? 

Cloudy is natural! It comes from the lemon peels releasing their “zest,” which is actually essential citrus oils. Those turn cloudy when the sugar from the simple syrup meets these oils. This is called emulsification, or “the ouzo effect.” It doesn’t affect the taste of your beverage at all.

Does it help digestion?

Limoncello is traditionally served as a digestive after a meal because citrus is an aid to digestion. What’s more, the bright lemony flavor cuts through the heaviness of a large meal and leaves you feeling a little more refreshed. 

How do you use limoncello? 

Limoncello is traditionally enjoyed in a small chilled glass, sipped slowly and leisurely after a long or heavy meal. However it can also serve as a lovely building block for a variety of cocktails, among these light and creamy crema di limoncello, which uses milk instead of water.

It can also be added to desserts like our chocolate and almond limoncello cake. Limoncello is a light and fruity addition to tiramisu, cookies and even ricotta cake. Try adding it to any recipe that could use a bright dash of this lemony flavor like a lemon semifreddo recipe.

How do you store it, and how long does homemade limoncello last?

Because limoncello is traditionally stored in the freezer, and has a high alcohol content to boot, it can last almost indefinitely. The alcohol will lose its punch over time, but the sweet and cheerful taste should remain unchanged.


Homemade limoncello recipe

Limoncello recipe

Make this famous Italian drink with our recipe for homemade limoncello. Simple and delicious!
4.55 from 35 votes
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Course: Drinks
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 4 days 30 minutes
Servings: 9 cups
Calories: 451kcal
Author: Nonna Box


  • 12 organic lemons Sorrento are best - Meyer lemon is a great substitute.
  • 750 mL bottle of grain alcohol vodka is an acceptable substitute, but the taste will be a little different
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 cups water


  • Wash and dry your lemons and then grate or peel them carefully with a knife or a vegetable peeler. Be sure not to include any of the pithy white skin beneath the peel, which is bitter.
  • Place the lemon peel in a sterilized glass jar and top with the grain alcohol. There should be enough liquid to completely cover the lemon rind.
  • Seal tightly and store in a cool dark place for at least four days. You can leave your mix to steep for up to twenty days however the longer the lemon peels are left to infuse their lemon flavor into the alcohol, the stronger your limoncello will taste.
  • Combine the sugar and water in a small pot. Stir over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved completely. Let the sugar syrup cool to room temperature.
  • Strain the alcohol and discard the lemon peels. The color of the alcohol should be a good dark yellow, and smell very strongly of the lemons.
  • Pour the simple syrup into the strained alcohol and mix well. Then pour into bottles, seal tightly and let sit in that same dark place for two days (up to ten days if you want a stronger lemon flavor) before enjoying.


If your limoncello is too strong for your tastes, try adding a cup of water at a time until it’s diluted to a level you’re comfortable with.
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