What Italian limoncello is made of: origin and curiosities

Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur and a common after-dinner drink in the country. It’s designed to cleanse the palette and embrace the Italian custom of enjoying a long meal and time with friends.


Whether you’ve tried limoncello before or not, you’ll want to know what limoncello is made of, how limoncello is made and, most of all, you’ll want to answer the following question: Is Italian limoncello the best in the world?


Limoncello is made from lemon zest. It has a sweet and slightly zingy flavor and is generally produced in the southern areas of Italy. This includes the Amalfi coast, the Bay of Naples and even Sicily. This is where you’ll find the most authentic flavors and traditional recipes.

How is Italian limoncello made?

The simple answer is lemons, but not all limoncello is created equal. To really appreciate this drink and the different ways to enjoy it, you need to understand how it is made.

It’s a traditional process which is still used today. You will find it in Italian kitchens, as fresh limoncello is extremely popular.

The process starts with lemon zest. This is placed in a container and steeped in neutral spirits, also known as rectified alcohol. It’s effectively highly concentrated ethanol. Once the oils are released and the mixture is a beautiful shade of yellow, the liquid is strained off and mixed with a water and sugar mixture. The exact balance of water and sugar will affect the final flavor. That’s why even Italian limoncello can taste different across different parts of Italy.

Many people agree the best fresh limoncello from an Italian kitchen is found in the Amalfi region. If you taste Amalfi limoncello you’ll probably agree!

The temperature at which the limoncello is made also affects the clarity and even the viscosity of the final drink. Of course, when asking “What is limoncello made of?”, the real answer is a traditional recipe and love.

The origin of limoncello

Surprisingly, the second most popular drink in Italy doesn’t have a clear origin. There are several stories, such as monks on the Amalfi coast sipping limoncello to pass the time between prayers. Or the stories of fishermen warming up in the small hours of the morning with a glass of the iconic yellow liquid.

One thing is certain: limoncello is Italian and appears to have originated on the Amalfi coast. However, prior to the 20th century, there is no documentation confirming the creation of this liqueur or how this happened.

Surprisingly, the second most popular drink in Italy doesn’t have a clear origin. There are several stories, such as monks on the Amalfi coast sipping limoncello to pass the time between prayers. Or the stories of fishermen warming up in the small hours of the morning with a glass of the iconic yellow liquid.

One thing is certain: limoncello is Italian and appears to have originated on the Amalfi coast. However, prior to the 20th century, there is no documentation confirming the creation of this liqueur or how this happened. Three towns - Amalfi, Capri, and Sorrento - have claimed to be the birthplace of limoncello. All these towns are on the Amalfi coast. The towns won’t agree on a single origin story but they all have access to the Sfusato lemon. These are lemons which have a spindle-like shape and are used in the highest quality Italian limoncello. We will probably never know the exact origins, but we can still enjoy this traditional Italian liqueur.

 

The lemons in Italy were originally small with a sour taste, these wouldn’t have made good liqueur. However, the natural lemons were cross-pollinated with local oranges in the 11th century. While no one is exactly sure what encouraged horticulturists to do this, it resulted in an edible lemon. Without this cross-pollination, limoncello would never have been possible.

A fun fact is that the cross-pollination also made the lemons so delicious that they could be eaten like an orange, as a snack, as part of your breakfast or even in a salad!

If you want the best quality limoncello, you need organic Sfusato lemons. Fortunately, we have done all the hard work for you, all you need to do is enjoy the taste.