Learn how to make Italian limoncello the authentic way with this easy recipe you can do at home! I’ve even included an alternate key ingredient to make this drink keto friendly!
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What is limoncello?
Limoncello is an Italian word for the traditional Italian liqueur originating in southern Italy, particularly along the Amalfi Coast, the island of Capri, Naples and Sicily. Its a very popular liqueur with an intense lemon flavor. Entrepreneur Massimo Canale was the first businessman to trademark the name “limoncello” back in 1988.
What are the ingredients in Italian limoncello?
The traditional recipe for Italian limoncello is a lemon liqueur made with infused alcohol, traditionally by using a potato vodka (although some like to use a brand name Everclear) and soaking lemon peels in the pure alcohol for a couple of days. So all you need is a pure grain alcohol, lemon rinds (preferable from organic lemons), sugar and water!
Types of lemons most commonly used for traditional limoncello.
The Femminello St. Teresa lemon is the lemon of Sicily. Siciilian limoncello is such a big part of their culture. The oily nature of their thick skins and juicy fruit and lower acidity level make the Femminello a perfect lemon for limoncello. If you are buying store bought lemons be sure to grab organic. You don’t want any chemicals from the rinds being absorbed into the liquor. For this recipe we used meyer lemons because of their exceptional flavor.
What type of alcohol is best?
As I stated above a potato vodka with a high alcohol content is usually the most common choice. But for the smoothest possible limoncello you’ll want to use at least a 100 proof vodka. A lower proof alcohol can still work just fine, just use less sugar than you would when making the sugar syrup. The highest proof grain alcohol you can find is Everclear. If these items are unavailable at your grocery market your neighborhood liquor store should have them.
Supplies needed to make your own homemade limoncello.
- Citrus peeler or potato peeler (for peeling off the lemon rinds)- or a zester if you are using lemon zest instead.
- A large glass container or 1-gallon glass jar (for soaking your lemon rinds in the alcohol)
- Plastic wrap (in case you don’t have a lid to cover your container)
- Cheese cloth, or coffee filter (for straining zest) regular strainer for straining the rinds
- Another large glass jar (so you can store your simple syrup in a cool place)
- Large saucepan (for making your simple syrup)
- And possibly a funnel (in case you need to pour the infused alcohol into a smaller neck bottle)
- Decorative bottle for storing your limoncello.
How to make your limoncello keto friendly.
I’m a firm believer in “having my cake and eating it too!” Meaning, I don’t want to sacrifice flavor if I’m lightening up my drinks. This limoncello recipe was actually pretty easy to make a keto version for. When making your simple syrup you will want to swap the white sugar for a keto sugar substitute. We like using monkfruit. I have also used Allulose. IF YOU LIKE KETO COCKTAILS YOU’LL LOVE MY KETO MARGARITA AND KETO MOJITO!
Recipe card for Italian limoncello.
Homemade Italian Limoncello- Low sugar & low carb
- 1 vegetable or potato peeler (*optional zester) For peeling the rinds off the lemons or zesting the rinds
- 1 large glass container or jar For storing the alcohol while you are infusing it with the lemon rinds.
- 1 sheet of plastic wrap Optional cover for glass container.
- 1 cheese cloth or coffee filter For straining the alcohol.
- 1 large saucepan For boiling water to make the simple syrup.
- 1 1 cup measuring cup For measuring water and sugar.
- 1 large glass bottle You will pour the simple syrup into this so it can cool.
- 1 funnel In case you are pouring the limoncello into a skinnier bottle to store.
- 750 ml pure grain alcohol (vodka or Everclear) close to 100 proof as possible (lower proofs are ok too, but you will want to adjust the amount of simple syrup)
- 6 whole organic lemons (I used meyer) If buying store bought lemons be sure to wash them thoroughly. Save the juice of the lemons if you would like to add additional lemon juice to your vodka. This will give it a more sour flavor.
- 1 cup white sugar (or for a low sugar or Keto option use monkfruit or allulose!)
- 1 cup water
- Wash and dry lemons
- Carefully peel the rinds off of each lemon taking care not to peel the white part off of the lemon. You don't want much pith on your rinds. The bitter white pith of the lemon skins is something that will wreck the flavor of your limoncello. Optionally, you can choose to zest the lemons instead. If you do this method you will pour the alcohol over the lemon zest and let it sit for at least 2-3 days. The longer it sits the deeper the yellow will become.
- Pour alcohol into a large container and add your lemon rinds. (If you aren't doing the zest method.)
- Seal the container with its lid or plastic wrap and store at room temperature in a dark place for at least 2-3 days. For the best results remember that the longer you let it infuse the stronger the flavor.
- Once the alcohol is ready it will be a bright yellow color. Pour the alcohol through a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer to make sure no zest gets into the finished product. If you used the rinds then straining will be much easier. You can pour the rinds into a strainer over a larger container. You have an option here to add the lemon juice of your lemons to the alcohol. This will give your limoncello a more sour taste. Those who don't like a super sweet puckering flavor may prefer this option. In this case we added the juice from the lemons. Now you are ready to make your simple syrup.
- This part is completely up to you, but most people make simple syrup by mixing 1 cup of white sugar to 1 cup of water. You can reduce the amount of sugar to your liking. ***To make this keto-friendly you will want to substitute the white sugar for monkfruit, allulose or another sugar substitue.
- Slowly stir the sugar into the boiling water until the sugar dissolves.
- Once the simple syrup has cooled to room temperature you can add it to the alcohol.
- Now you have your very own authentic italian limoncello! Decant the limoncello into decorative bottles for a great homemade gift or just for yourself!
- Serve over ice and enjoy that first sip!
Feel free to experiment with your own version of Italian limoncello. You just need the peel of citrus fruits. I want to try a grapefruit version next!
How to drink limoncello.
The authentic Italian way to drink limoncello is to drink it straight, without ice in either a tulip glass or in a shot glass. Limoncello is typically stored in the freezer. This will give it that icy refreshing taste while preserving the most amount of flavor. You can serve it over ice as you see pictured here if its not cold enough. We took ours on vacation so we needed a way to make it colder.
How we first discovered Italian limoncello.
We visited Italy in 2006 during our first year of marriage. One of our favorite stops was the Cinque Terre. It is by far one of my most favorite places on earth. If you haven’t heard of the Cinque Terre, it’s a coastal region in northern Italy containing five quaint fishing villages.
What makes this area particularly unique is that you can really only reach each city one of three ways: by train, boat and most famously by its hiking trail.
The trail is a must do, the views are stunning! But, in the summer months the trail can be hot and long. When we were hiking along we ran into a little old man selling his homemade limoncello.
After tasting his I had to learn how to make Italian limoncello!
The very best limoncello I’ve ever had.
I had never actually had limoncello, but it looked so refreshing that we decided to buy some. We ended up saving our little bottle for the end of the hike. After a long hot day hiking and exploring Vernazza we settled onto our beach in Monterosso and cracked open that sucker! Wow what a pay off! The tart of the fresh lemon and the sweet of the simple syrup was so refreshing. Its definitely a liquor you want to savor and sip.
Free download of our amazing limoncello recipe:
But enough suspense! You need to make this and imagine yourself right there with us! Here’s how to make amazing limoncello!