Sweet, tangy and vegan yet oh-so-creamy, this Italian lemon sorbet is summer in a cup. And it's unbelievably easy: You need just 2 ingredients and no specialty equipment!

Two bowls of lemon sorbet, one with a spoon, and one next to a spoon. Next to these are 2 lemon wheels and a kitchen towel.
Photo Credits: Katherine Irwin

In Italy, locals enjoy lemon sorbet as a warm-weather refreshment, palate cleanser, digestive, and even as a breakfast staple. And while Sicily has perfected its world-famous citrus Sorbetto al Limone, it was 8th Century Arab settlers who first introduced the island to these tart fruits, sugar cane, and to the concept of sorbet—eventually leading natives to discover gelato, granita, and the first versions of this lemon sorbet recipe!

Today, Sicily produces millions of tons of citrus fruits, with lemon and orange groves aplenty in the fertile lands surrounding Mount Etna. So it’s no surprise that treats like Sorbetto al Limone, Limoncello, and Sgorropino have become synonymous with Italian cuisine.

The juice and zest of fresh, sun-ripened lemons infuse the simple syrup. The syrup is then frozen, becoming an irresistibly refreshing dessert. Whether you want to recreate the citrus sorbets you tasted while traveling in Italy, or simply looking for a cool refreshment, this recipe is for you!

Ingredients for lemon sorbet including lemons, mint and sugar.

Lemon Sorbet Ingredients

Fresh lemons right off the tree are the star of Sorbetto al Limone. Their rinds infuse the simple syrup with a vibrant note that complements the otherwise sweet flavor profile.

  • Fresh lemons: Choose a tart lemon variety, like the Lisbon or Eureka lemon which is known for its thicker skin (more zest!). If you’re a fan of Meyer lemons, keep in mind that they are sweeter and have a much thinner zest, so it won’t be quite as complex and refreshing.
  • Sugar: Plain white granulated sugar is best.
  • Mint (optional): Makes the sorbetto extra refreshing! 
An overhead photo of 2 bowls of lemon sorbet, one with a spoon, and one next to a spoon. Next to these are 2 lemon wheels and a kitchen towel.

How To Make Homemade Lemon Sorbet

This recipe doesn’t take long to prepare but it does require a stretch in the freezer and frequent mixing, so plan to make Sorbetto al Limone on a day when you’ll be home for at least 5 hours.

  • At least 1 hour before cooking: chill the mixing bowl. Place a large stainless steel mixing bowl or sealable container into your freezer to chill while you prep the lemons and make and chill the simple syrup.
  • Peel and juice the lemons. Scrub, dry, and peel 4 to 5 fresh lemons–enough to get ⅔ cup fresh lemon juice. Take care to peel just the very outer yellow part of the peel (the zest), avoiding the white layer beneath (the pith) that can sometimes be quite bitter. Once peeled, juice the lemons and filter the juice through a strainer.5 zested lemons next to a pile of lemon zest strips and a peeler on a wooden cutting board.
  • Prepare the simple syrup. Combine the lemon zest, ¾ cup sugar, and 1 cup water in a saucepan and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved. Chill in your fridge for at least 45 minutes. Water, sugar and lemon zest strips in a saucepan sitting on a wooden cutting board.
  • Strain, blend, freeze, and mix. Add the strained lemon juice, chilled simple syrup (remove the peels), and blend until frothy. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and freeze. Give the mixture a brisk mix about every 30 to 45 minutes to help it develop a smooth consistency, instead of a typical granita-like texture. You can use a manual whisk or electric mixer. Do this until it's frozen through, about 4 hours in total. The lemon sorbet mixture being poured from the pitcher of the blender in to a bowl.
  • Enjoy. Serve it immediately before you’re ready to dig in. But don’t worry if it melts a bit — you can always serve it in cups as a refreshing drink to sip slowly.Two bowls of lemon sorbet, one with a spoon, and one next to a spoon. Next to these are 2 lemon wheels and a kitchen towel.

Ways to Mix it Up

This is a perfectly simple lemon sorbet recipe, but you can dress it up a bit if you’d like: 

  • For an adult version of this summer dessert, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of limoncello to the simple syrup.
  • Not a fan of lemons? Swap out the citrus for another favorite such as orange, which is nearly as popular in Sicily.
  • Add egg whites for an even creamier consistency and to speed up the freezing process. Egg whites also act as a stabilizer. Whisk 2 tablespoons of egg white (about 1 large egg) until stiff peaks form, then gently incorporate it into the syrup mixture before freezing.
A close up of a spoonful of lemon sorbet with two bowls of sorbet and 2 lemon halve in the background.

How To Make Lemon Sorbet Using An Ice Cream Machine

Using an ice cream machine will speed up the process and yield a much creamier result. If you choose to go this time-saving route, add the simple syrup to the prechilled (12 to 24 hours) insulated bowl and follow the instructions for your machine. Depending on the model, the process typically takes around 30 minutes.

An overhead photo of 2 bowls of lemon sorbet, one with a spoon, and one next to a spoon. Next to these are 2 lemon wheels and a kitchen towel.

What To Serve with Lemon Sorbet

Sorbetto al Limone is a typical palate cleanser and digestive, and in Sicily, it’s even considered a breakfast food.

Enjoy it between courses, at the end of a meal, or simply anytime you feel like it. Scoop it into a brioche roll, use it to whip up a batch of Sgroppino, or serve it all on its own.

Leftovers and Making Ahead

Like most frozen treats, you won’t want to store Sorbetto al Limone for too long, risking changes to its flavor and texture. It’s best enjoyed within a few days of preparation but can be kept in the freezer in a stainless steel food storage container with a tight-fitting lid for up to 15 days.

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5 from 1 vote

2-Ingredient Lemon Sorbet (Sorbetto al Limone)

A picture of Candace Nagy.Candace Nagy
Two bowls of lemon sorbet, one with a spoon, and one next to a spoon. Next to these are 2 lemon wheels and a kitchen towel.
A classic Italian summer treat, this refreshing dessert is vegan, gluten free, easy, uses just 2 ingredients, and a total crowdpleaser–what's not to like? Just be sure to make it when you'll be at home for about 4 hours, as you need to mix it every 30 minutes or so until it's frozen for a creamy consistency. Or feel free to use an ice cream machine if you have one (see note).
Prep – 20 minutes
Cook – 5 minutes
Chilling time 4 hours
Total – 4 hours 25 minutes
Cuisine:
Italian
Serves – 4 (makes 2 cups)
Course:
Dessert

Equipment

  • Stainless steel mixing bowl

Ingredients
  

  • cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 4 to 5 fresh lemons), plus their peels
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • Fresh mint leaves (optional), for garnish

Instructions
 

  • At least 1 hour before cooking: chill the mixing bowl. Place a large stainless steel mixing bowl into your freezer to chill while you prep the lemons and simple syrup.
  • Meanwhile, peel the lemons. Wash and dry the lemons, then peel the zest into strips, taking care not to peel the white pith along with it (save the peeled lemons for later).
  • Make a simple syrup. Place the sugar, lemon zest strips, and 1 cup of water into a saucepan and set over medium-low heat. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, use tongs to remove and discard the peels, then chill until cool, at least 45 minutes.
  • Juice the lemons. Set a fine mesh strainer over a bowl, then slice the lemons in half and juice them through the filter. Cover and set in your fridge to chill while the simple syrup cools.
  • Blend. Add the chilled simple syrup and lemon juice to a blender and blend until frothy, about 2 minutes.
  • Pour the mixture into the chilled bowl, cover, and freeze. Give the mixture a vigorous mix about every 30 to 45 minutes to help it develop a smooth consistency, instead of a typical granita-like texture. You can use a manual whisk or electric mixer. Do this until the sorbet is completely frozen, about 4 hours in total.
  • Serve. Spoon into chilled serving glasses and garnish with a sprig of mint (if using). Enjoy, and don’t worry if it melts a bit — you can always serve it in cups as a refreshing drink to sip slowly.

Notes

  • Visit our shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including olive oilshoneyjams, and spices.
  • It’s OK if a few zest peels remain in the simple syrup — they’ll blend up nicely later.
  • Using an ice cream machine will speed up the process. Add the simple syrup to the pre-chilled (12 to 24 hours) insulated bowl and follow the instructions for your machine. Depending on the model, the process typically takes around 30 minutes.

Nutrition

Calories: 153.3kcalCarbohydrates: 40.2gProtein: 0.1gFat: 0.2gSaturated Fat: 0.02gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.01gMonounsaturated Fat: 0.003gSodium: 0.8mgPotassium: 42.6mgFiber: 0.1gSugar: 38.4gVitamin A: 2.4IUVitamin C: 15.7mgCalcium: 2.8mgIron: 0.1mg
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Candace Nagy is a passionate food writer who gets excited about sharing new ways of looking at the foods we eat, from food origins and heritage to systems and science, and everything in between. A Los Angeles native, she explores food through the lens of culture, class and creativity, often taking cues from the foods she grew up eating and those she has discovered during her travels. Her writing can be found at EatingWell, The Spruce Eats, Clean Plates, and elsewhere in the vast internet universe.
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Comments

  1. Bridget says:

    5 stars
    Is it kept in the freezer until time to serve at the end of a dinner?

    1. TMD Team says:

      Yes! That would be the best way to go so it doesn't melt.