Abstract : The cohesive behaviour of unsaturated granular materials is due to the presence of cohesive bonds between grains. These bonds can have various physico-chemical characteristics and may evolve with environmental conditions. We study the case of a granular material partially saturated by an aqueous solution. The bonds are thus initially of capillary type and the mechanical strength is weak. At low relative humidity, the phase change of water involves crystallization of the solute at the contact points between grains, generating thus solid bonds. The mechanical strength of the material is then enhanced. An experimental study of the evolution of the mechanical strength during crystallization of the solute shows clearly the transition from capillary regime to cemented regime. This transition is not correlated with the mass of the crystallized solute, but rather with the residual degree of saturation. This behavior is analyzed here in the light of discrete element simulations. We introduce a local cohesion law that accounts for transition from capillary to cemented bonding. This law is formulated in terms of the degree of crystallization as a result of the evaporation of water at the boundary of the sample. The cohesion of the packing is initially of capillary type. A crystallization front then spreads from the sample boundaries to the center of the sample, and the strength increases as a result. Uniaxial compression allows us to determine the strength at different times. The numerical strength agrees well with the experimental data, and reveals strength enhancement as the solute crystallizes, as well as the transition from capillary to cementation regime.