Survival of Lactococcus lactis subjected to different drying conditions was investigated. Mannitol most remarkably enhanced the survival of dried cells to a level almost equalling that of viable cells [log10 (cfu ml-1) = 9.42] as was found prior to the drying process (log10 = 9.6). In the absence of mannitol, a survival was reduced by a factor of 104. Drying of cells at 20 °C led to higher survival rates than drying at 30 °C. Mannitol enhanced the survival rate at both temperatures, and at both 20 °C and 30 °C the highest reduction in survival occurred when cells were dried at a water activity of 0.76. In the presence of mannitol, differences in survival after drying at different water activities were less pronounced. Rehydration of cells dried in the presence of mannitol resulted in an extended lag phase of 4 h compared to fresh cells. No growth or acidification of the culture medium was observed for 12 h in the case of rehydrated cells dried in the absence of mannitol. It was hypothesized that a radical scavenging activity of mannitol could partly explain these observations.