When lactic acid bacteria are used industrially as fermentation starters it is important to obtain stable and highly viable bacterial cultures. Six strains of Lactobacillus encapsulated in Ca-alginate gel beads were investigated to determine whether dehydration, storage and rehydration may inflict injury. A negative relationship between leakage of lactate dehydrogenase and survival rates was found. Mesophilic lactobacilli showed only negligible leakage compared with thermophilic strains when dehydrated at 30 °C to a level of 0·11 g H20 (g dry wt)−1. The choice of an appropriate suspending medium to be introduced before drying was therefore very important for thermophilic lactobacilli in order to increase the survival rates during dehydration, storage and rehydration. The osmoregulatory solutes tested were adonitol, betaine, glycerol and reconstituted non-fat milk solids (NFMS). Less injury was inflected during dehydration for Lactobacillus helveticus with adonitol, glycerol and NFMS. Survival rates for the strains subjected to immobilization, dehydration, storage and rehydration varied with the strain and the protective solute when fluidized-bed drying was used at 5 °C to a level as high as 0·34 g H20 (g dry wt)−1. Non-fat milk solids gave the best protection for thermophilic lactobacilli, while adonitol and NFMS were best for mesophilic lactobacilli.